Polls show Georgians don’t like it. Polls show Atlantans don’t like it. Georgia Common Cause opposes it, as does the Tea Party and several people I know, some of whom I respect. But they’re all wrong on this deal to replace the Georgia Dome with a new stadium.
First, let’s address this “public money” nonsense. The Georgia World Congress Center Authority has the legal power to issue bonds, (about $200 million worth) to fund things related to the Georgia World Congress Center “campus,” which includes the Congress Center, Centennial Olympic Park and The Georgia Dome. The job of the authority is to bring convention, sports and entertainment events to downtown Atlanta, and it’s been doing that since 1976 when the Congress Center hosted the Bobbin Convention. From time to time the Georgia legislature put state dollars into various projects on or near the campus -sometimes for direct purchases of land, sometimes for improvements, sometimes for parking -the “stuff” you need to have from time to time keep one of the “top five biggest convention destinations in the country [and] one of the best sports and entertainment campuses in the world” being “biggest,” and the “best.”
In 1989 the current dome was built to accommodate the demands of then-owner Rankin Smith, because Smith wanted a bigger share of the parking and concession revenues than he was getting by sharing the old Atlanta-Fulton County stadium with the Braves. So the legislature and the governor crafted a deal whereby the legislature let the GWCC borrow $210 million to build the Dome, and let the City of Atlanta pay the borrowers back with revenue generated by a hotel-motel tax. So, are we clear on that? The ONLY reason the hotel-motel tax exists is to pay back money borrowed to build and improve things at the Congress Center, Centennial Olympic Park and the Dome. And since 1989, Georgia hasn’t put a bunch of direct “State tax” dollars into those facilities -it’s been revenue from Atlanta’s (and Fulton County’s) hotel-motel tax. And that’s better than using taxes that all Georgians pay (as they used to do) to create “economic benefit” for Atlanta and the surrounding area. (For you low-information types, “economic benefit” = “jobs.”)
Well, then, how big is that economic benefit? Former Governor Zell Miller claimed it was $10 Billion -but when Politifact fact-checked him, did some of their own calculations, contacted Georgia State University economist Bruce Seaman, and came up with somewhere between $5 billion and $7.5 billion. Assuming the lowest possible number available, Atlanta and the surrounding area gets a $5 billion boost in economic activity because we let the GWCC Authority borrow money to make the Congress Center “campus” attractive to sporting, convention and entertainment events -and then pay those bonds back with revenues from a hotel-motel tax, which is mostly levied on visitors. Yes, it’s a tax, and yes, it’s technically “public” money that could be used for something else -if Atlanta wanted to use it for something else. (They don’t.) But as a means of paying back bondholders, levied only on those folks who choose to stay in a hotel in Atlanta and originally authorized only for the specific purpose of paying for improvements to the things the GWCC Authority owns and operates, it’s about as far from “tax money” as a revenue stream could be and still be called “public.” Put it this way: I live in DeKalb County, and have no reason to stay overnight in an Atlanta hotel. I’ll never be charged a DIME of taxes to pay for this new stadium -and neither will most of the people in Georgia- but we’ll all see more economic activity because of the conventions, trade shows, concerts and sporting events the venue attracts.
And as for Common Cause’s objection that this process has been devoid of “meaningful public input…” well, go back and click those links. They’re to publicly available news sources, The New Georgia Encyclopedia and the Georgia World Congress Center’s website, which even has a set of chronological links to all the documents about this deal. There’s a public timeline from the biggest media organization in the State for crying out loud! The facts are out there -and have been since the beginning. As my grandmother used to scold us when we didn’t arrive promptly at the dinner table, “Whaddya want, a gilt-edged invitation?”
Yes, there are LOTS of things that Atlanta and the legislature could spend $300 million on -but none of those other things were the reason for the hotel-motel tax. The reason for that tax was to build the Dome. There’s no denying the Dome benefits Atlanta, the Metro region and Georgia. And creates jobs without raising taxes.
-Isn’t that what we want the legislature to do?