Moderated by Rick Badie
Neighborhoods in the shadow of the proposed new Falcons stadium have been promised social and economic benefits from the project. Will they see them? Today’s guest columnists offer their perspectives, while I interview the pastor of Lindsay Street Baptist Church, an anchor of the English Avenue community.
Stadium neighbors will see renaissance
By Brian McGowan
Many families living in the western portion of downtown and the historic neighborhoods of Vine City and English Avenue have faced difficult economic and social challenges. Struggling schools, high unemployment, persistent crime, poor housing and other challenges feed into and perpetuate one another.
On top of that, the Great Recession hit particularly hard communities that were already struggling. Despite previous investments and proximity to the Atlanta University Center, Georgia Tech and Centennial Olympic Park, these communities have continued to experience decline. We now have a historic opportunity to sustain and support a strategy for revitalization.
Revitalization efforts in the past, though well-intentioned, failed to produce long-term results. They were disconnected and focused narrowly on single issues, such as housing. In addition, a massive effort was not reached because limited resources were spread too thinly. Over the last two decades, we have learned that success will require a multidisciplinary approach that addresses housing, job training, public safety, physical infrastructure, health and human services and k-12 education. The challenges faced by these neighborhoods will require solutions to reverse this downward trend.
Last fall, Invest Atlanta took on that challenge and began work on a bottom-up plan that empowers local action and encourages public-private partnerships. Projects and initiatives suggested by the community over the years are being evaluated in light of the area’s current economic, social and environmental conditions. Our goal: to identify and consolidate community priorities into a targeted plan that weaves all of the elements necessary for comprehensive revitalization.
The proposed new Falcons stadium creates an opportunity to align resources for Vine City, English Avenue and Castleberry Hill. Invest Atlanta has committed $15 million from the Westside Tax Allocation District (TAD) Community Improvement Fund for economic development projects that would attract private and philanthropic investment.
In addition, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation has committed $15 million to the neighborhoods contiguous to the new stadium. We are grateful for the foundation’s partnership and expertise as we undertake this important work.
The focus this new stadium will bring, combined with signs of economic recovery, create a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to end the cycle of poverty that has paralyzed these communities. The desired outcome is a community dynamic that creates jobs, empowers current residents and attracts new families.
Stakeholders must be willing to put aside parochial interests and work together. This does not mean that there won’t be differences in opinion or feelings of distrust and skepticism. It does, however, require that people move beyond those issues and focus on the work at hand. If we can do that, these communities will see a renaissance that does justice to their historic past and ensures a stronger future.
Brian McGowan is the CEO of Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development arm.
Stadium a vehicle for change
By Rick Badie
The Rev. Anthony A.W. Motley has a message for people who wonder what adjacent neighborhoods hope to glean from the new Atlanta Falcons stadium being built in their midst. It’s simple, not profound at all.
“We want what the Buckhead kids have,” said Motley, pastor of Lindsay Street Baptist Church in the English Avenue community.
“Resources. Our children’s needs are no less. They don’t have options for resources. We need recreational facilities and green space. All they have are the drug deals and the users, the appearance of glamour from the drug dealers (and) police not as friends but as occupiers. We know the stadium will be built, but it is a luxury among all the needs around us.”
The stadium could affect the surrounding neighbors of English Avenue, Vine City and Castleberry Hill. As guest columnist Brian McGowan writes today, resources are being aligned to ensure redevelopment in these predominantly black, poor, hardscrabble neighborhoods. I spoke to Motley, a community advocate, about the issue.
Q: What’s different about this stadium plan as opposed to past venue deals?
A: Hopefully, there is a desire to not repeat the past. We trust the mayor’s word. We must commend the mayor and his willingness and forthrightness to work with the communities. No. 2, we have come a little more armed with the mistakes of the past. We have been burned too many times. I still think they want to throw us a bone and keep most of the meal for themselves.
Q: What’s the role of neighborhood churches?
A: The churches are going to have to be the institutions to help regulate what is good for the community — not that we are better at doing it but, historically speaking, we have more respect from the powers that be. Hope lies in the coalition we have formed. I’m not going to feel good about anything until I see real solid legal deals have been made and confirmed. I still have the feeling that we are sort of just being tolerated. If we weren’t making noise, nothing would be done.
Q: What is the objective for the neighborhoods?
A: For health care, employment, education, training, whatever. There needs to be an awareness of our needs and our people. We need to be sure there are priorities and human needs from a Christian standpoint, what we believe Christ demands of us. We are so desperate here and in Vine City that we see this as a means to an end, a vehicle for community transformation.
Q: The public’s perception of English Avenue is all negative. Why is that?
A: We have seen a decline in the homeowners, the senior people. Some remain, but quite a few have passed away. Some owners have moved on or not maintained the properties or the taxes, and you have renters. The population has declined because it is a high-crime area. Then you have low-income residents who go to work every day, just like everybody else.
Poor planning for poor neighborhoods
By Larry Keating
Athletics and athletic competition are wonderful and exciting. But a poor city subsidizing a private sports business by $500 million-plus is morally repugnant.
This is the latest stadium to be sited just outside, or on the periphery of, the central business district in a poor, black neighborhood. The fact that none ever prospectively appeared in a comprehensive plan mocks Atlanta’s public planning process. Poor neighborhoods are instructed that to affect their zoning, land use and redevelopment, a city-sanctioned plan is required. State law stipulates the same. There is no separate legal path for athletic teams; their political power evidently exempts them.
There is no publicly discussed and adopted plan, no independent analysis of impacts, and no commitment to ameliorate or compensate damaged interests, and the final site is not determined. Mass transportation, pedestrian and vehicular access, parking, noise, resident disruption, secondary development, cultural impact, and the public costs of restructuring infrastructure are integral to planning approval.
Two examples: At 151 years old, Friendship Baptist Church, faced with demolition, is Atlanta’s oldest independent African-American Baptist congregation. Mt. Vernon Baptist Church, also threatened, was forced to move in 1955. While each congregation will determine its response to potential displacement, the larger African-American community and Atlantans have interests at stake.
The city and the team have exported civic responsibilities to provide sufficient parking onto nearby black neighborhoods. Too little on-site parking and inadequate traffic and parking regulations have led to illegal, informal parking lots. Neighborhoods pockmarked with infrequently used parking lots will not be developed. As the Dome’s negotiations concluded, there was an ostensible commitment of no event parking west of Northside Drive. The city subsequently approved parking lots for multiple properties west of Northside Drive.
A publicly obscure element is the Falcons’ capture of commercial activity. The team will receive stadium revenues from games and other activities. The Falcons corporatized revenue streams from a public building.
Typical versions of stadium finances cited a $200 million public commitment. State law requires the stadium to get 39.3 percent of the $43 million hotel-motel tax annually, rising with inflation and over time amounting to $500 million-plus in public funding.
The promise of Community Benefit Agreements requiring neighborhoods’ signatures before money flows to the Falcons when the City Council endorsed the stadium has been unilaterally appended with a $45 million budget. The Blank Foundation’s $15 million seems genuine. The $15 million in Westside Tax Allocation funds is likely money previously committed. The final $15 million in private contributions would be welcome.
Invest Atlanta as administrator of these funds is worrisome. The types of economic development it touts refer to capturing dollars from fans and central business district development, not contending with impoverishment. Many problems affecting poor neighborhoods would be exacerbated by “market” solutions, so turning to a private-sector oriented organization instead of a central role for neighborhood-based development corporations — which the neighborhoods sought — could mean trouble.
Larry Keating is professor emeritus of the School of City and Regional Planning at Georgia Tech.