Atlanta council approves deal to throw half a billion dollars at Falcons to replace 20-year-old stadium

I sure hope you enjoyed yesterday’s calculation that the Atlanta Falcons stadium deal, after hidden lease subsidies, would cost taxpayers $554 million — because the Atlanta city council sure showed no interest at all, voting 11-4 last night to approve the project to replace the 20-year-old Georgia Dome with a new stadium, with the help of a 30-year extension of hotel-motel taxes. “The council, in a short amount of time, significantly improved the transaction from what was initially presented to us,” council member Yolanda Adrean said afterwards, which is true only if you count a $15 million team contribution to “community improvements” to be significant in the context of a $554 million public subsidy.

Also not interested in hidden cost numbers: The Associated Press, which jumped out of the gate last night to be the first to report on the deal, describing it as “using city hotel-motel tax revenue to cover the $200 million public contribution for the proposed $1 billion, retractable roof stadium.” At least the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, to its credit, described the public share as “the use of city hotel-motel taxes to pay $200 million toward construction costs and potentially several times that toward costs of financing, maintaining and operating the stadium through 2050.”

There’s still a vote to come from Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development arm, later today, but despite one board member’s public skepticism, it’s hard to see them defying the mayor and the council on this one. So it looks as though the Falcons will be playing in a new stadium circa 2017, and the Georgia Dome, built at a public cost of $214 million in 1992 and renovated for another $300 million in 2007, won’t live to see its 25th birthday.

While the writing’s seemed on the wall for this one for awhile, it’s still a pretty stunning development when you step back and look at it: An NFL team in a relatively new domed football stadium, without threatening to leave town aside from a few vague idle threats to go to the suburbs, succeeded in getting the local government to approve more than half a billion dollars’ worth of future tax subsidies by means of a bait-and-switch in which they first claimed they were asking for $300 million, then changing the number to $200 million, all while the actual subsidy figures remained unchanged. Depending on how you want to look at it, it’s a bravura performance of chutzpah, a horrible precedent for other cities facing their own stadium shakedowns, or both.

Plus, you just know that “But the Falcons are getting a whole new stadium!” is likely to be the next rallying cry in Charlotte and Miami, as backers of the wildly unpopular plans to subsidize stadium upgrades for the Carolina Panthers and Miami Dolphins try to jump-start those deals. Suffice to say that the next reporter to call me and ask if the days of major stadium subsidies are behind us will be getting an earful.


20 comments on “Atlanta council approves deal to throw half a billion dollars at Falcons to replace 20-year-old stadium

  1. ” An NFL team in a relatively new domed football stadium, without threatening to leave town aside from a few vague idle threats to go to the suburbs, succeeded in getting the local government to approve more than half a billion dollars’ worth of future tax subsidies”

    while every poll of the public opposed the deal.

    Absolutely disgusting.

  2. The cowards didn’t even put the vote on the agenda. They slid it in as an ad-hoc item at the end of the meeting. Over half a billion dollars and a commitment to burden people who haven’t even been born yet with the upkeep of this stadium and they didn’t think it important enough to put it on the council’s agenda. It was treated at the level of “oh by the way, is it ok if I keep my yogurt in the mini fridge downstairs” type of issue instead of one of the largest financial commitments made by the city since the infinitely more important sewer overhaul project (which the public incidentally did get to vote on).

  3. Ahh, sweet success once again! Us NFL owners never tire of gorging at the public trough, and we’d like to thank the public for their largesse in city after city. On to our next publicly funded victory!

  4. This is democracy?

    An elected body who won’t even put a decision on hundreds of millions in direct subsidy to a highly profitable private business on the agenda, much less debate the question publicly – as they are required to do?

    Was it Stevenson who said “If Fascism ever comes to America, it will be called Americanism”?

    Who do these elected officials work for? The taxpayers or the ruling elite? We know who pays them (both).

  5. John Bladen, those elected officials cost us a pretty penny I’ll have you know. Oink.

  6. What’s the over/under on when the Giants and Jets start asking for a new, retractable-roof stadium?

  7. “Over half a billion dollars and a commitment to burden people who haven’t even been born yet with the upkeep of this stadium and they didn’t think it important enough to put it on the council’s agenda”

    So glad I’m not bringing any children into this world. Getting real sick and tired of this “kick the can down the road & let someone else pay for it” mantra. Already seeing the effects of it in my state. It just cripples your economy.

  8. David: The day after next year’s Super Bowl. “You’ll never get a Super Bowl again without a roof! And laser turrets. Because those would be totally awesome, right?”

  9. Jet/Giants paid for their own stadium, the public isn’t going to fork out any money. Stick to complaining about the bad deals.

  10. They did so because the previous administration at the NJSEA was dead set against giving them money, and they desperately wanted a new building. (They did get a decent amount of tax breaks, though.) I don’t see why they wouldn’t at least try to follow the Dolphins/Panthers route once, say, 10 years has passed.

  11. Give the NJSEA some credit, try being a little more objective, and stop linking to crackpots like Atlanta Al. You ‘re on the path to becoming the Glenn Beck of stadium finance.

  12. Re: The agenda comment… That seems unbelievable. The AJC had some pictures in their coverage of people wearing ‘Vote Yes’ stickers; other people were decked out in Falcons gear. There was even a picture of Rich McKay standing in the back of the room during the meeting. So clearly, it was known that the vote was going to take place. But I found the agenda online and there didn’t seem to be any mention of it. I even searched for terms relevant terms but found nothing save for one mention of the GWCCA. How is that even possible? Or is the agenda in Atlanta more of a suggestion of things that might possibly be discussed?

  13. Neil, lately you sound more and more like the Glenn Beck of John Stossels. Al Gray can be your sidekick..

  14. In regards to the agenda, here are some details from the Buckhead View:
    —-
    But, three of Buckhead’s four representatives on City Council apparently continued to believe that the proposal offered by the city administration and the Falcons organization still should have passed through the normal channels of City Council approval of major economic projects.

    That process normally would require a first reading in City Council of an “ordinance”, followed by that being sent to committee for full review and only after that review was completed in a public forum having the ordinance returned to City Council for a vote.

    That process would have taken a few weeks, which neither the administration of Mayor Kasim Reed nor the Falcons organization wanted to go through. Therefore, the agreement was presented in the form of a “resolution” to City Council, which can be presented and voted on at the same meeting without committee and public scrutiny.

    At one point during the council meeting, Moore said, “This is unprecedented. We are voting on about something that will impact this city for 50 years or more. We need to take our time and make sure all our i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.”

    —-

    http://www.buckheadview.com/2013/03/city-council-approves-moving-forward.html

    Interesting that these detail have to come from a community blog rather than the local news media. But when a large percentage of your content comes from covering the local NFL team, I guess some don’t want to risk getting locked out.

    The standout part of the article to me is “That process would have taken a few weeks, which neither the administration of Mayor Kasim Reed nor the Falcons organization wanted to go through.” Amazing that city funds will be tied up through 2050 and the thought of a few weeks of due diligence was too much of a hassle for those receiving the money to accept. Talk about being a spoiled kid.

  15. That is nuts about the council… No public vote and the circumvent the normal process? You can actually download video of the entire meeting. I might actually bother to do that and sit through it now.

    Strange though that, if it wasn’t on the agenda, clearly the team knew the vote was happening. Like I said, the AJC had pics of McKay in the room. And the councilmembers got the 200 page agreement less than a week before the vote. How many of them actually read it? Or even understood everything they were voting on?

    I don’t even live in Atlanta… which actually makes me even more upset because, should I visit, I’m the one paying for the public part of this.

  16. It was in the paper the morning of the meeting that there was a good chance they’d vote — I even posted about it here, if you recall. So regardless of whether supporters got an official heads-up, I’m not surprised that lots of them turned out just in case.