WABE radio in Atlanta kicked off a week-long series yesterday on the metro area’s multiple new stadium and arena deals for the Falcons, Braves, and possibly Hawks, and I had the honor of being one of the first guests, pointing out that while there are certainly cities that got worse deals (hello, Indianapolis!), that’s not really something to brag about. You can listen to the whole interview here.
Look, I know that news outlets, especially crappy ones like local TV stations, are obsessed with scoops and that corporate communications directors exploit this by offering “exclusives” to things that are really just PR events. But that doesn’t stop this report on Atlanta’s Channel 2 Action News from being so, so very sad.
Speaking of stadiums replacing other stadiums that weren’t even of legal drinking age, the price tag of the Atlanta Falcons‘ new stadium is now $1.5 billion, which is up from $1 billion less than two years ago. The reason? “Financing costs,” which you’d have thought Falcons owner Arthur Blank would have worked out long ago since he already started construction on the place, but I guess this is just how rich guys who own NFL owners roll: Sometimes you need to cut another $100 million check to the bankers, whatcha gonna do?
Anyway, this does not increase the amount of money that Georgia taxpayers will be putting in, which is a good thing, since that’s already almost $600 million. It does make you wonder if building modern NFL buildings is really worth these insane price tags — are owners like Blank just chasing the increased franchise values that come with new stadiums, more so than actual revenues? Is this all a giant bubble that will collapse once the NFL concussion cascade collapse hits? Is the Falcons’ crazy sphincter roof really a clever homage to tulipomania? If not for that $600 million in public funds, these would all be fun questions to ask and kibitz on.
The Georgia Supreme Court has ruled on the challenge to the Atlanta Falcons stadium bonds, and it did not buy the argument that using the hotel-motel tax that funded the Georgia Dome to now fund its replacement violated the state constitution:
“[T]here is nothing arbitrary or unreasonable about allowing the same taxing entities that already have experience paying for a multipurpose domed stadium facility through the collection of a 7 percent hotel-motel tax…to collect such a tax in the future to fund a different stadium after the first tax has expired,” Justice Harold Melton wrote in the court’s opinion.
That was the last round of appeals for the Falcons suit, so we can stick a fork in it. The Braves bond lawsuit, meanwhile, which rests on whether a baseball stadium is a “public purpose” and which got one of the craziest legal responses ever from the Braves’ crack legal team, is still proceeding, having had a supreme court hearing last month and with a ruling expected in July. I’m not holding my breath or anything, given that courts are usually hesitant about injecting themselves into this kind of development policy even when the law might imply it’s their job to, but it’s still something to keep an eye on.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported recently on a $23 million proposal “tucked into Gov. Nathan Deal’s budget” for an expanded parking deck at the new Falcons stadium. “You wouldn’t build something like this parking deck for just eight games, Frank Poe, head of the Georgia World Congress Center Authority (owner of the World Congress Center, the Georgia Dome, and the new stadium) told the paper. “You build it because it’s sustainable for all the other businesses we have on our campus.” Maybe what Poe meant was “You build it and hope somebody actually turns up.”
Unfortunately for Atlanta, they haven’t been turning up much. For fiscal year 2014, the World Congress Center saw just 390,870 convention and trade show attendees. That’s down 17 percent from the previous year, and less than half the 807,000 attendees the center saw in 2007. It’s even far less convention business than the 601,000 attendees the center saw in 1989 — and that was two expansions ago. And if anyone thinks a big new parking garage is going to lure thousands to downtown Atlanta, the World Congress Center Authority has another trick to lure all that new business: a big new hotel.
The Authority just issued a Request for Proposals for a new 800- to 1,200-room hotel next door to the GWCC. According to the RFP, “The Authority envisions a new Hotel, if developed, to be an immediate enhancement to financial viability and dynamism of surrounding facilities, GWCC convention business, and to the City of Atlanta and the State of Georgia in general.” That would of course be the dynamism of a failing convention venue and a brand new $1.1 billion stadium, along with the booming convention business.
Add a P.S. on the work of the consultants: PriceWaterhouseCoopers produced a “market analysis” in October 1996 that forecast that after the latest center expansion, completed in 2002, the World Congress Center would see 1.4 to 1.5 million convention and tradeshow attendees a year. Didn’t quite work out that way.
Apparently the Atlanta Falcons‘ new stadium is going to feature action-movie music, video boards on every available surface, dozens of places to order expensive food, and no one on the field actually playing football. This is truly the NFL’s dream future.
The Atlanta Falcons stadium’s projected cost has risen again, this time to $1.4 billion, which would make it the second most expensive NFL stadium in history, after the $1.6 billion stadium shared by the New York Giants and Jets. No real word on why the inflated price tag, though the Atlanta Business Chronicle cited Falcons CFO Greg Beadles as indicating that “more detailed design plans allowed the team to more accurately budget the cost of the stadium” (i.e., “we guessed wrong”) and saying that “construction costs across the board continue to increase as the economy improves and demand grows” (i.e., “we have to compete for steel with stuff like the new Braves stadium now”).
The Falcons will cover the increased costs, though you have to wonder if they’ll take some of it out of that “waterfall fund” that the state set up for them out of any hotel tax revenues that aren’t needed to pay the initial stadium debt. Though the team’s owners were going to avail themselves of that money one way or another, no doubt, so it shouldn’t matter much to state taxpayers what in particular the team uses it on. Anyway, crazy roof, people! Who can put a price on that?
Excellent: The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s City Hall reporter Katie Leslie is livetweeting today’s hearing of the citizen challenge to the Atlanta Falcons stadium bond sale, starting like 15 minutes ago. Among the highlights so far:
Among points, attny Woodham says City Council didn't have right to extend hotel motel tax for stadium b/c state hadn't issued needed docs.
The Georgia Supreme Court has set oral argument dates for the lawsuits against the stadium deals for the Atlanta Falcons (Monday) and Braves (next February). And … that’s about all I can tell you, because the Atlanta Journal Constitution story is behind a paywall, but if you’re an AJC subscriber, you can no doubt read more.
Okay, I can give you a little background: The two suits are actually appeals of the bond issuance for the stadiums, which means the bonds can’t be sold until they’ve been cleared.
None of this appears to have stopped construction from moving ahead — check out the Falcons’ construction photos, with all those, um, whatever they are already having been built — presumably because the teams have enough cash on hand to start things off with the bond money. But if either appeal is successful, then we’re entering uncharted waters, to say the least.