Could the Billion Dollar Stadium Get A Billion Dollars in Public Money?

New StadiumBelieve it or not, there is a good possibility that the Atlanta City Council may vote on the proposed new stadium on Monday. If true, to call such a fast-track vote irresponsible would be a vast understatement. The two inch-thick plan they were just given Wednesday evening is still in draft form. The exact site for the stadium has not even been selected. Worst of all, the myth that only $200 million of public money is being used for the project, has seemingly saturated the minds of the public due to media reports that have not dug deep enough.

The number, good ladies and gentlemen of the pess and public (as well as Mr. Mayor, Falcons ownership and management, Good Governor and Georgia World Congress Center Management) is not $200 million, let’s try $880 million, and growing!

That’s right, according to this law, 39.3% of the hotel/motel tax collected through the year 2050 must go to the Georgia World Congress Center Authority specifically for the Georgia Dome or its successor facility. According to this document, 39.3% of the projected hotel/motel tax collected through 2050 will be $882,564,382.

How can it be claimed that only $200 million of public money will be used for the Falcons’ new home? Outright deception! And unfortunately, many seem to have fallen for it. Thankfully Tim Tucker of the AJC reported it late this week, unfortunately, it competed with the headlines for the new Pope, so I think most people missed it. The story is attached here – sadly, it is not available online.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Falcons owner Arthur Blank, Governor Deal and assorted officials with the Georgia Dome triumphantly proclaimed a ‘compromise’ last week about spending public money on the private business that is the Falcons’ proposed new football stadium.

“The public contribution for stadium construction is capped at $200 million, which would come from the hotel-motel tax collected by the city of Atlanta almost exclusively (more than 85 percent) from visitors and tourists, not residents of the City of Atlanta,” said the mayor’s office in a media release preceding the press conference.

Notice the carefully crafted phrase “for stadium construction is capped at”. So they are telling the truth that “construction cost” will be capped at $200 million, but they are deceiving you by not pointing out what’s in the rest of their summary (see below). Because the current law (which can be changed) requires all of that 39.3% to go to the project, beyond the $200 million for construction, there are five other accounts the hotel/motel money will flow in to – until all $882m is collected for the new stadium.

HM Tax Collections Chart

So, sure. The city will use ‘only’ $200 million of scarce public money for construction of a facility to benefit the Falcons. Up front. But another $680 million will ultimately go to the stadium for largely the same purposes – improving Arthur Blank’s equity value in the Falcons franchise.

Looking at it strictly from the perspective of public money spent on the stadium, nothing has changed … except that they’ve managed to get the media to start using the number $200 million instead of $300+ million in their news stories. Here is just a sampling…

“All except the $200 million in public money would be paid by the Falcons, the NFL and personal seat license sales,” reported the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on March 8.

“Mayor Kasim Reed said the city would provide $200 million of construction costs through bonds backed by the city’s hotel-motel tax. The Falcons franchise, owned by Home Depot co-founder Blank, would provide $800 million and be responsible for construction cost overruns,” the AP reported for ESPN on March 8.

“Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and the National Football League’s Falcons agreed on terms for financing a $1 billion, retractable-roof stadium downtown with a public contribution capped at $200 million,” wrote Bloomberg’s Aaron Kuriloff on March 7.

Let’s dig further and talk about more public money…

Reed and the Falcons have spoken with specificity about the additional money to be spent on community redevelopment associated with a new stadium, like $30 million in public and private funds in the English Avenue, Vine City and Castleberry Hill area – half of which is coming from an existing tax district’s proceeds – that’s another $15 million of public money.

Now let’s talk infrastructure – the proponents have been quite vague about how much money will ultimately be necessary on infrastructure improvements. In fact, the Mayor has said we won’t know until the deal is done – what?!? Would you hand over the keys to your car to a mechanic that says “I can’t tell you how much the bill will be until after I fix it, and in fact, I can’t even give you an estimate until you sign the dotted line”? And we are not talking about my 2008 Saturn – this is infrastructure related to a billion dollar building.

Sure, the Falcons have agreed to cover the first $50 million of infrastructure needs, but given the unknown amount of this cost, how do we know if this is just a drop in the bucket, or an amount deserving of praise? The Mayor has even said the infrastructure cost could be as high as $200 million.

Also lost in this conversation – the state government is essentially giving up about $24 million in land for the stadium, and may be giving up $50 million in sales tax rebates as well.

So, no. The number is not $200 million. We’re getting pretty darn close to a one billion dollar public investment. Let’s recap the public money for a new stadium:

$882,564,382 in hotel/motel tax proceeds,
$50 million from the state in sales tax rebates,
$24 million for the land on state-owned property, and,
$15 million from Invest Atlanta for community development.

That’s $971 million, and that total does not even include any infrastructure costs over the $50 million that the Falcons have committed for roads, sidewalks or moving the MLK Jr Drive bridge (as it was revealed this week that is a must-do for the preferred site). Yes, moving a bridge – that can’t be cheap!

The public deserves a better explanation of what we would pay for under this “deal”. Only a referendum will force the truth out – call your members of the Atlanta City Council and tell them to let the people decide! And, ask them to vote no if there is a vote held on the Mayor’s proposal on Monday.

And please friends – don’t allow yourselves to be duped by the $200 million claim – it’s just plain deceptive!

About William Perry

Executive Director of Common Cause Georgia
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4 Responses to Could the Billion Dollar Stadium Get A Billion Dollars in Public Money?

  1. Lyn Graybill says:

    At the City Council work session on Thursday, Councilman Martin said the City was not legally allowed to hold a referendum unless the State allowed it. Does anyone know if this is true?

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