How will stadium neighborhoods fare?

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.

9 comments Add your comment


May 1st, 2013
11:14 pm

bigbill- i wonder if i should say this to arthur blank next time I am at synagogue?


May 1st, 2013
7:15 pm

The land Belonging to Morris Brown College is starting to look like a Huge Diamond on a Hill. many of you are not aware that particular Lot of Land is listed as the highest point of Land in Atlanta. Surely, the Investors will be coming out of the wood work in huge Numbers, to Build on such a Prize!

Van Jones

May 1st, 2013
1:28 pm

All I’m reading here is: “I live near where the stadium will be built so give me something.”


May 1st, 2013
1:17 pm

NOTHING will be improved until you REMOVE the residents in that area who mostly do not care one bit about their community. I live in the Washington Park area next to English Avenue. All I see are lazy, drugged out, ‘guvment’-dependent failures. On the other side are ‘reverends’ who mooch off of other people’s money in the name of Jesus. It is nothing but theft in a suit!

Most of the current COMMUNITY is the problem. The PEOPLE here are destroying it. It is not solely about race, it is about how this community created TRUTH in stereotypes.


May 1st, 2013
12:29 pm

This sounds really great…until the reality of the dismal situation comes crashing through. Many of the folks who live in these areas are hopelessly addicted to drugs. Many don’t have any idea what it means to show up to work on time, work hard, provide friendly service, be productive….the kind of stuff that makes someone a valuable employee.

Time and time again, we get back to just giving food, money, and free housing…because frankly, that’s way easier than the heavy lifting required to actual help the individual better themselves for good.

I for one don’t have any answers. But it’s idiotic to think that, by pouring money into these neighborhoods, the issues are going to magically be resolved. You could buy everyone there a new car and a new house, and in a short amount of time it would all come crumbling down again, unless the people themselves actually change inside.


May 1st, 2013
10:23 am

Thank you, Larry Keating, for pulling back the curtain to reveal the deception and hypocrisy surrounding this infamous undertaking which seeks to have the taxpayers of our city and nation pay for the further enrichment of a billionaire business owner in our community while facilitating his plan to disrupt and oppress an already impoverished and neglected black community. What is the hypocrisy? We are deluged on a daily basis with proclamations from the corporate interests, the wealthy and their well-paid elected officials about how wonderful this country is, how great it is to have a free market capitalist system which provides such great benefits to its citizens, “lifts all boats,” and that any government program which really does try to provide benefits to its neediest impoverished citizens is socialist, anathema, and must be opposed at all costs. Welfare programs, unemployment benefits, Medicaid, Food Stamps, single-payer government run health insurance programs we are told, are wrong, don’t work, stifle the desire to work, etc. etc. No mention is made of the crippling economic recession and massive unemployment brought to us by major banks with their massive infusion of capital into the subprime mortgage-backed securitization model they created. No mention of the tens of millions of foreclosures that have resulted. Capitalism really does a great job for all citizens?

And then along comes billionaire Arthur Blank, sole owner of a fabulously profitable sports business, seeking a $500 Million infusion into his business from the taxpayers, from our local governments, to build his new stadium, and that is perfectly O.K.? That simply has to be done even though the building of this edifice to Blank will impose terrific hardships on the black community it directly impacts? And this is NOT welfare? This is NOT racism? It’s welfare all right, welfare for the billionaires. It’s racism all right. Blank would never seek to impose this kind of devastation in the wealthy white neighborhood where he and the other white millionaires and billionaires of Atlanta live. And most importantly this is a perfect example of how free markets and capitalism actually work in the good ole USA of today. Welfare for the rich. Capitalism and free markets for the poor. It is indeed morally repugnant.


April 30th, 2013
11:53 pm

It would seem focus on the growth of small business in the area should be a priority. By doing so not only can individual business owners begin to build wealth, but they can also provide needed jobs and services to the community. Also, the business would attract individuals from outside the community during stadium events thus bring in outside funds. However, I fear much of this money will disappear as it always seems to when the “usual suspects” swoop in with their hands out.


April 30th, 2013
7:58 pm

A lot of it will be Asphalt and fenced in Lots for Parking……Not much of it will be left. So what does it matter?


April 30th, 2013
7:32 pm

SportsTopFan(c) agrees that the neighborhoods surrounding the proposed new stadium should receive social and economic benefits !!!

We urge Atlanta City Councilman Ivory Young to fight hard for his constituents.

The Arthur Blank Foundation, InvestAtlanta and Mayor Kasim Reed should keep their promise to the citizens of Atlanta.