I am by no means the first to propose the idea of using the City of Atlanta’s hotel/motel tax to fund transportation in this city. Even Kyle Wingfield, who I have many of troubles agreeing with what he says, has suggested it. But as the stadium deal looks to loom closer and closer each day, one must really question our priorities as a city. I am a big supporter of Mayor Reed. Each week I have seen him on Meet The Press he gives me a little more pride to say I live in Atlanta. He is a reasonable, intelligent, and effective leader. But the stadium deal is horribly misguided and throws our city priorities out of whack.
Ask anyone in this city what are the most critical issues facing us are and they are likely to point out one of three things: transportation, employment, and crime. A recent ranking of the best 50 cities in America put Atlanta at no. 16. Pretty darn good, and I wouldn’t disagree. But the element they said that kept Atlanta from being higher on the list was crime. Traffic, as we all know, is some of the worst in the nation. And there isn’t a person in this country, besides maybe the people in North Dakota, that haven’t been affronted by the unemployment numbers in their home city or state. And somehow, we, or shall I say those, pushing for this new stadium, rank the coziness of the Atlanta Falcons above all of those issues. The Georgia Dome is 20 years old. The Georgia Dome is not at the end of its useful life, hence why the proposal does not include the demolition of it. Somehow, sports stadiums have become the new “Keeping up with the Jones” for cities. Another city got a new stadium with a big jumbotron. It is only right that your city must get a newer stadium with an even bigger jumbotron. It is like the two middle aged guys in the neighborhood trying to one up the other with a new grill, new car, or new power tool while ignoring the cracking foundation under their home. But who can see the foundation anyways right? And that is what we have, ignoring the foundation of our city for a cosmetic good.
It pains me to lay criticism at Reed’s feet for this. As I stated I really like him, and think he is one of the best mayors in this country and who knows what kinds of externalities are put upon him. But this is where he could drop the ball in my opinion. We watched TSPLOST get beaten down by the region. But the City of Atlanta voted yes and by a pretty good margin. During TSPLOST Reed attempted to act as a regional ambassador which I appreciated. It was his attempt to bring the region together on a vital issue. But the region spit in his face, as well as the city of Atlanta’s. And while the stadium may reside in the City of Atlanta it is used by the entire region. So if the region rejected us on something as important as improved roads, rails, bridges, and sidewalks, why would we offer them an entertainment facility that would be used less than a dozen times in a year?
The claim is that only $300 million will be used from the city hotel/motel tax to help fund the stadium. But that $300 million could go a long way in solving local transportation issues, and even longer if used as a means to match federal funds for projects. That $300 million is likely to increase anyways as most construction projects do. Throw in another $53 million proposed to be used from the economic development fund for the Westside for the sidewalk and street improvements needed for a new stadium and you have a pretty nice chunk of change that could be used for MARTA repairs, streetcar expansion up Peachtree/West Peachtree, the Clifton Road Corridor, improved rail or bus services, or countless other transportation and pedestrian needs for the city. That money wouldn’t cover all of those projects but we could get moving on at least one of them. This is a chance for Reed and the city to say to the region, if you don’t want to help support us, then we will take care of ourselves, not to provide them with a regional entertainment venue on top of an existing one.
During TSPLOST Reed had said that the fact that Clayton County didn’t have bus service was “1960’s stuff.” Well so is this. This is another form of “urban renewal.” The hope that a super project will spark economic development and create jobs and businesses. But it has been proven not to. We have been building convention centers and sports stadiums for decades with the same hope, and every time we get the same result. A part time facility with a wasteland surrounding it. It has been over 15 years and Turner Field is still surrounded by parking lots. The area around the Dome is a wasteland. This is the case for most stadiums in this country with the exception of a few baseball stadiums. But even those get a minimum of 81 days of activity, far above that of a football stadium. New businesses will not cluster to be around a football stadium. They never have and they never will. But businesses do cluster around transportation if done right.
I am not discounting the economic value of a successful sports franchise. In some cases they can make or break a city. St. Louis’ number one export is probably the Cardinals. Cleveland may never rebound from the loss of LeBron James. But the Falcons are not likely to leave over a new stadium. And if they did one should question their allegiance and commitment to this city in the first place. And if they did leave, did Los Angeles collapse from the loss of the Rams? Does New York City suffer from their teams playing in another state? Seattle is still just as strong as they were when they had the Supersonics. Giving this stadium, which is exactly what it is, giving (at least a portion of it) is a knee jerk reaction.
This voice of opposition for this new stadium is becoming overwhelming. Fans are becoming angered over the new proposal of PSLs (essentially you pay a fee for the right to purchase season tickets, which would be like buying a plane ticket and then paying another fee for the right to sit in a seat during the flight). By going forward with this stadium we send a message that we are prioritizing a failed economic development model and a sports franchise, over issues that truly have a detrimental effect on our city. For Reed, this is an opportunity to prove that his focus right now is to be Atlanta’s mayor and not a regional ambassador.