New Falcons stadium: Why World Congress Center chief supports it

Frank Poe has one foot in the business world and the other in the political arena. And these days, both feet are firmly planted in negotiations with the Atlanta Falcons over a new stadium for the team.

Frank Poe

Frank Poe

Poe, a 40-year veteran of the convention business, became executive director of the Georgia World Congress Center Authority two-and-a-half years ago. The authority, created by the state, operates the current Falcons nest, the Georgia Dome, as well as the Georgia World Congress Center and Centennial Olympic Park. Together, the three downtown venues accounted for $113 million in revenue and $14.9 million in net income in the authority’s latest fiscal year. The College Football Hall of Fame, scheduled to open in 2014, will be on authority-owned land.

Poe, 62, talks about the controversial stadium project and what he learned while working in the convention business in Dallas, Orlando, Birmingham and here.

Q: Many Atlantans do not believe that public funds should be used to build a facility for a privately owned team, especially with today’s other pressing needs. Why should some $300 million in hotel-motel taxes be put toward a $1 billion stadium for the Falcons?

A: It would be financed by a portion of a 7 percent tax on visitors who use hotel rooms. That tax cannot be used to fund roads or schools in its current form. The General Assembly would have to change the current law.

That tax is buying a $1 billion asset, with about 70 percent of the cost coming from the private sector. For 30 cents on the dollar, the public is going to get a new facility that will be sustainable for the next 30 or 35 years. If you want to have NFL football in the marketplace, public-private financing is the way these deals are structured for the most part these days.

You also have to consider that it’s not just for the Falcons. We also do a significant number of college athletic events, conventions and other activities within the Dome that will move into that facility.

It will also allow Atlanta to be competitive in the marketplace for college bowls, the World Cup and other events.

Q: You’ve been juggling two important projects — the stadium and the College Football Hall of Fame, an $80 million project including about $15 million in public money. What’s your approach been?

A: Be patient and tenacious, and don’t let your ego get in the way of the outcome. You try to craft the best deal that you can in negotiations by stating your case and standing by it, without letting your ego get involved.

The same thing applies when you’re taking care of a client. Sometimes, when you’re involved in customer service discussions, it can quickly devolve into my way is the right way. You forget to listen to what your customer is really telling you. There are always situations that you look back on that were really dumb because you let your ego stand in the way.

Q: What else have you learned from four decades in the convention business?

A: Don’t expect instant gratification. Have a goal, be methodical and patient. There are opportunities that will pull you off of your path. There was instances when I was sidetracked. Tolerate them, and then have the fortitude to work your way through them by keeping the goal in sight.

Also, in business there are structures and processes in place to create a consistent delivery system. But if you let those structures always guide the outcome, then you’re not always going to be taking care of your customer. You’ll be paying homage to the process, as opposed to accomplishing what your client needs.

Q: Atlanta is the nation’s fourth largest convention city, behind Las Vegas, Chicago and Orlando. How did the recession impact your business? Are you trying to add new revenue streams?

A: During the recession, the number of shows and the amount of space exhibitors had been taking fell, as did the amount of money they spent on food and beverages. As we’re beginning to creep out of the recession, we’re beginning to see exhibitors take on more space. Attendance for some shows is beginning to come back.

To increase revenue at the Congress Center, we’re leasing space and expanding our advertising offerings. We’re also using our facilities and unique campus to get involved in motion picture and TV filming projects here.

At Centennial Olympic Park, which is the front door to the Congress Center, we’re looking at other revenue generating opportunities by expanding our food offerings to attract some of the transient traffic that moves through there. Can we introduce a more permanent restaurant component in the park?

Q: How did you get involved in the convention business?

A: My father was a police officer and then a homicide detective in Dallas. My mom worked in a doctor’s office. I learned a work ethic from them. I started doing part-time work in junior high school, mowing yards and throwing newspapers. In high school, I cleaned a doctor’s office after school.

During the summer after my senior year, I got a part-time job as a janitor at the old Memorial Auditorium in Dallas, which later became the convention center. I also worked the parking lots. I continued to work there while going to college. After graduating, I went to work full time as an accounts payable clerk. One thing built on another. I got to work as an events coordinator and then moved to management level positions.

When hiring today, I tell applicants that if you’re not concerned about having a personal life in the first part of your career, then this may be the business you want to be in. But if you want a personal life, then this is not necessarily for you because of the long hours.

It’s a leisure business. You work when others are playing.

Each week, Sunday Business Editor Henry Unger has a candid conversation, called “5 Questions for the Boss,” with a top executive in Georgia. Some remarks are edited for length and style.

53 comments Add your comment

crowmeat

November 10th, 2012
2:28 pm

If Arthur Blank wants or needs a new stadium, let HIM pay for it..after all, he’s a Billionaire right!?
They can’t fill the stadium they have and I for one don’t see a dam thing wrong with it!!
The city or county has NO business getting involved with this mess!!

Joe

November 10th, 2012
4:00 pm

Well put, crowmeat. It’s unbelievable that they think this even has a chance after the t-splost debacle.

No Way

November 10th, 2012
4:19 pm

A new stadium would be substainable for 30-to-35 years? The Georgia Dome is only 20 years and they think that it’s outmoded — even with a costly renovation a couple of years ago.

YES Way!

November 10th, 2012
5:45 pm

I guess the above commentators didn’t read the whole article. The stadium will be used for events besides football. Their are college bowl games, concerts, church conventions, rodeos, etc that will use the facilities.

The monies invested by the State will give them a piece of the pie. Plus, the State taxes generated by all the visitors to the stadium helps keep the State resident’s taxes low. All those out-of-town visitors sure help the local businesses too!

Another point which I didn’t realize until I READ THE ARTICLE, is the hotel tax fund will be used to cover the cities contribution. This tax cannot be used for anything else. This tax was put into place for projects like this. Not one dime will come from the taxes you pay to the State. This is all money collect from out-of-town visitors who stay at our hotels and fly through our airport.

The only State residents who could be against this help are those who live in the rural areas. What do they care about the city folk? Stadium or no stadium, their lives will be the same.

rockconner

November 10th, 2012
6:21 pm

The Georgia Dome is newer & nicer than most public schools, which by & large are underfunded & underperforming. If our economy can afford higher taxation, let’s put it in teachers, cops, public services, etc. I want government to get out private business’ way, not get in bed with it.

Brad Mayne

November 10th, 2012
7:17 pm

Enter your comments here

Brad Mayne

November 10th, 2012
7:40 pm

The Dallas Cowboys achieved a better deal (City covered a greater cost), than this proposed deal and by a much smaller municipality, the City of Arlington, Texas. In it’s short history Cowboys Stadium has hosted the NBA All Star Game, Super Bowl, will host the NCAA Men’s Final Four, several major college football games, and the annual Cotton Bowl which pits the SEC against the Big 12, two power house conferences. Cowboys Stadium is positioned properly to become a part of the BCS expanded field due to it’s design that caters to big business which the community is working to bring to North Texas. In addition they have, or will, be hosted all the major concerts, boxing, PBR, Wrestlemania, and I’m sure I am leaving some major events out. The benefits for the Dallas & Fort Worth market (”DFW”) has been impressive. If Atlanta wants to position it’s community to experience similar successes as DFW it will require an investment and it sounds like Frank has paved the way to use the best of government and the best of business to bring major events and an economic engine with sustained and job growth for Atlanta. Working toward a deal of this type is why Frank Poe is one of the most respected venue executives in the world of sports, entertainment, and visitors industry… I’m sure DFW would appreciate Atlanta remaining the way it is right now with the dome it now operates for a profit. Less competition for major events and pushing a treasured professional franchise to move to another community like Los Angeles… So will other major cities for that matter.

MANGLER

November 10th, 2012
8:19 pm

So, I guess there’s no such thing as upgrading the existing facilities to make them more high tech?

The Lark

November 10th, 2012
9:29 pm

Did I miss it? Where are they going to put the new dome? I don’t mind the States dollars being spent to build a new dome but both the dome and downtown ATL are out dated. Spend the money wisely by making sure the investment gets pay back. Put the Falcons new stadium North of the City and refurb the GA Dome and you’ll get the best of both worlds – a sell out crowd for Falcons games and a new convention facility. Keeping the Falcons downtown will be a total waste of money for us all in terms of football dollars.

We lost the Thrashers because most people who enjoy hockey live North of ATL – all the minor league rinks are North where the fans are. The same goes for the Braves. Move them North and their stadium will sell out.

If Arthur as a owner doesn’t move his Falcons North my only hope is that someone else creates another NFL team and puts them North of the city.

Just look at how Northern areas like Gwinett and Alpharetta have created amphitheaters with great success, moving concerts from downtown to the North with sell out crowds.

ATL is very spread out, a lot like the Northeast and West coast, LA. We’re overdue for another professional franchise in the Northern areas of our great city and State.

jbuckeye

November 10th, 2012
11:22 pm

Not a dime should come from public funds. Wake up, Georgia. As this Governor/legislature continues to not fund public schools, someone has the AUDACITY to suggest this???? …..This is a “handout” that no Republican should support.

Another angle

November 11th, 2012
12:52 am

Mr Poe says that the General Assembly would have to change the hotel tax law so that he funds could be spent on education. Perfect. This doesn’t justify spending the $ on a new stadium. It justifies changing the law. Thanks, Mr Poe, now be a good leader and suggest we change the law.

bootney farnsworth

November 11th, 2012
1:00 am

I don’t care if it will host the resurection.

its an expense the citizens don’t need right now. let Poe and Blank find some rich people,
corporations, or sell stock in the damn thing.

bryan a. wyche

November 11th, 2012
1:26 am

keep dreamin….@the lark……the falcons are never leaving downtown…..why would they…..its centrally located and its on marta…..they are gonna build their new playpen right at the spot public housing used to be…right next to the dome…the land is already being cleared…..tear down the dome and use it for a parking lot….and the beat goes on

Steve

November 11th, 2012
5:43 am

Why can’t people understand the a new building will produce more revenue than any other single building in the state? It is not just for 8 games a year. It is for SEC Championships, Final Fours, high school football, college football, Pro Football, concerts, conventions, etc., etc. Name me one facility that draws this kind of diverse bookings. It draws people to Atlanta which helps hotels, restaurants, and other attractions. To say it is just for the Falcons is plain foolish.

Scott Drake

November 11th, 2012
7:11 am

While Mr. Poe is correct that the law would have to be changed to use the hotel motel tax to fund education or roads, what he doesn’t tell us is that the law is going to have to be changed anyway to increase the amount of the current tax from a cap of 200 million currently to the 300 million now being proposed.

Scott Drake

November 11th, 2012
7:30 am

To be accurate the Georgia World Congress Center’s authority to issue bonds is capped at 200 million and changing that would require action by the legislature to increase the borrowing limit to 300 million. So who is on the hook if the tax does not generate sufficient revenue to pay the bonds? That would be us the state tax payer. This appears to me to be a done deal and certainly the Republicans have the votes with their near supermajority to get this done. And I understand that this will be a source of revenue for the city of Atlanta and the State, but at a time when we are continuing to cut cut education funding( 1.1 billion dollars this year alone) and we are doing precious little to address our transportation infrastructure needs, this seems like a bad time to be doing this. Didn’t they say the dome that was going to last 30-35 years. In Gwinnet County we heard how the Braves minor league stadium was going to be a great boon for the area, only it turns out not to be.

Morris Devereaux

November 11th, 2012
8:51 am

Those in favor of the new stadium are absolutely right; it will indeed pull in hundreds of thousands of dollars….but unfortunately, damn few of the taxpayers shelling out millions of dollars to pay for it will get any benefit from that money.

Like pretty much every government spending project, the whole impetus of this one is to get taxpayers to fund the things necessary for the well-connected and powerful to get more powerful and richer.

The Atlanta Falcons are a private business. Unless Mr. Blank wants to give a share of the team to the City, then like any other private business owner, he can build his own facilities. I’d like to know what everyone would think if he next started wanting taxpayers to fund Home Depot construction. Pretty much the same thing.

Wasted $$

November 11th, 2012
9:21 am

The existing facility was built on the same premise.. We needed it to attract all these things..which it does.. It was also going to last 30 – 35 years….. Poe acts like we are not making any money off the existing facility and that this will be “new” revenue. This is a done deal and once again the taxpayers get hosed…

EJ Moosa

November 11th, 2012
10:17 am

Nothing wrong with the Georgia Dome. What “new” events that are not already being hosted will be drawn to Atlanta?

Each year we defer this decision, we increase the return on investment for the Georgia Dome.

Let’s keep the Georgia Dome long enough that those that proposed it look like financial geniuses.

Michael

November 11th, 2012
10:39 am

Anyone ever notice that UGA plays in an 80 year old stadium? Michigan, Penn State, the Vols, The Tide all play in “ancient” stadiums. Oh, they can’t threaten to move the team.

As for big events at the Cowboys have had — the Georgia Dome has had all of those and continues to get them.

The Falcons don’t need a new stadium, they just want one.

Michael

November 11th, 2012
10:42 am

@ Steve: “Name me one facility that draws this kind of diverse bookings.”

The Georgia Dome.

John

November 11th, 2012
11:11 am

Any elected official who supports tax money being used to pay any part of a new stadium should be thrown out of office.

grip

November 11th, 2012
11:14 am

Since no one else will say it I will, Gwinnett or Alpharetta can’t hold the falcons, your hotel/transportation situation is not near extensive enough to hold the falcons on a game by game basis, nor the world cup for that matter, that idea is in no way viable. And your insane if you think the city of Atlanta is gonna lose the falcons to the northern side of town. Lark quit beating around the bush and say how you really feel, be a man, that’s a serious cop out on bringing up the thrashers too. What’s your issue with downtown? Please tell me how the game experience is going to be so much better on the “north side” of town!! You don’t have the infrastructure to be competent.

Midway

November 11th, 2012
11:49 am

“The Dallas Cowboys achieved a better deal (City covered a greater cost), than this proposed deal and by a much smaller municipality, the City of Arlington, Texas.”

Brad, Arlington didn’t already have an adequate football stadium hosting an NFL team. Also, the Cowboy’s stadium in Irving did need replacing.

The Georgia Dome is already hosting major events including the 2013 Final Four, SEC Championship, Peach Bowl, and Wrestlemania.

yuzeyurbrane

November 11th, 2012
11:53 am

That tax money can and should be directed to real priorities and if if takes legis. action to do that then the legis. should do so. It is not all painless anyway. Many Georgians pay that tax whenever they come to Atlanta for any reason. And the impact on Georgia’s convention busn. of a new stadium is exaggerated. Virtually all conventions can be accommodated by facilities we now have. The football franchise is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more than a billion dollars, and if a new stadium is built its value will go up. Who benefits? Arthur Blank. I don’t feel like the taxpayers need to help him become even wealthier. If he thinks it is a good investment for him, and I do, then he should pay for the whole thing (which he can easily do, perhaps with other investors) and he can build what he wants where he wants. That is the American way. Any politician who assists in this corporate welfare should be fired by the electorate.

Midway

November 11th, 2012
12:04 pm

“Move them North and their stadium will sell out.”

Is this a joke? Where in the world is Gwinnett or any other area in the northern suburbs going to come up with their $300 million share??? Gwinnett may be able to raise about a million through a hotel tax, where is the remaining $299 million going to come from? Gwinnett residents already got robbed with that minor league deal. Traffic would be a nightmare.

Btw, when was the last time a Falcons game didn’t sell out? It’s been years.

Midway

November 11th, 2012
12:23 pm

“Move them North and their stadium will sell out.”

In fact the Falcons have sold out 44 consecutive games and 102 out of their last 104.

Atlantan

November 11th, 2012
4:00 pm

Blank supported Obama – let Blank use his personal funds or find another way. Our tax dollars need to go to social support and not Billionaire’s play toys…. Arthur if you are going to support Obama you have no business reaching in to my pocket or other citizens unless you plan on sharing all the profits to benefit your fellow man. If you are going to support it you gotta live it…

Madea gets reassignment surgery

November 11th, 2012
4:16 pm

300 million could go a long way to improve transportation in this city, It could go a long way to improve a lot in this city.

What I find insulting and annoying is the spurious notion that a new stadium will bring a Superbowl. So what? Exactly what will another Superbowl do for this city? What did the last one do? You need to stop buying in to the idea that this city needs a new stadium because it will bring another Superbowl.

chest fever

November 11th, 2012
5:01 pm

The only “new” revenue would be games/concerts that would not occur in the existing Georgia Dome, so the Falcons, high school football, etc. aren’t a factor. It ought to be a pretty simple cost study for a decent finance guy – the tax impact for the city from additional venue revenue (if any) vs. the initial cost of building the facility and any convention or other tourist business lost due to higher hotel rates. Throw in a few other factors to refine the study and let Excel do the rest. Show us the numbers.

gunga din

November 11th, 2012
9:57 pm

what bothers me most is the $ figure of 300 million. this of course will grow to over 500 million before finished. this does not include the cost of infrastructure that the state will be saddled with. can’t build new stadium with out new streets, sewer, water and power lines. as for the thousands of construction jobs, they will be mostly illegal workers from mexico. last but not least will be the millions spent to buy off the black community activists who rant and rave about this project displacing the poor and blacks in that area. tell arthur to honor his contract with the dome or adios MF

Another angle

November 11th, 2012
10:31 pm

Michael raises a very good point concerning UGA and so many colleges playing in their “outdated” stadiums. The state should contribute nothing, not a tax break, not a dollar. And it is not like the ongoing costs of the Dome are going to go away = true cost of a new stadium needs to also include the ongoing carrying cots nd maintenance cots of the Dome which will remain our burden. This whole thing is utter nonsense

Another angle

November 11th, 2012
10:33 pm

I live in the City of Atlanta. The City needs to repave most ll of its streets. This bill is coming due sooner rather than later. Use the tourist tax for that. At least the tourists will get something out of it

Another angle

November 11th, 2012
10:41 pm

Forget the hotel tax. Let’s sell seat licenses before Blank does. You know he is not going to pony up the $ for the stadium. He will generate his portion by selling the fan base seat licenses. Let’s beat him to the punch and sell 75,000 seat licenses for $10,000 each. We wooden have $750 million in the bank. We throw Arthur $300 million and can decide what to do with the rest. I know, let’s send all of our citizens a check to thank hem for allowing the $300 million to be allocated to the stadium.

Georgia Domer

November 12th, 2012
6:40 am

Another case of corporate welfare. A billionaire wants you to fund his new venture and the city ultimately is held hostage. Twenty years after a new dome is opened, other cities will have been fooled into making similar deals and the dome in Atlanta will look old compared to the newer domes. And twenty to twenty five years after this new dome is opened, it will be deemed out dated. Thus the cycle will continue.

[...] Trustees of Mercer University. No word yet from Mercer’s most famous alum Erick Erickson. – Q&A with Frank Poe, head of the World Congress Center. News Flash: he supports building a new [...]

2012-1992 = 20

November 12th, 2012
7:18 am

The fine man says stadiums are “assets” for 30-35 years. Means. the Dome has 10-15 years ahead of it. If the Falcons don’t like how much money they can earn from the Dome (luxury boxes), upgrade the existing facility.

I always like how the people wanting a new stadium will then hire some firm to tell us that upgrading the existing stadium is as expensive as building a new one. That dog doesn’t hunt….

durrrr

November 12th, 2012
10:16 am

Somebody tell this guys that the Dome has 10-15 years left in it according to his estimates of a venue’s lifespan. As he knows, the convention business is tough, so why he thinks it’s a good idea to tack on another 7% tax on hotel rooms is good for the convention business is surprising. People who think it’s OK to ask for out of state visitors to pay for our stadium may never have heard of Southern Hospitality. The fact remains, if Arthur Blank doesn’t like the Dome, he can build his own damn stadium. The Dome is still a great place to be. By the way, the Dome also currently hosts all sorts of other non-NFL events, so nothing is gained there by a new stadium.

Jason

November 12th, 2012
11:18 am

Some things never change regardless of what part of society you’re in.

Man in a trailer park sees his neighbor get a double wide, and suddenly he’s got to have one too.

Man in suburbs sees his neighbor get a new BMW, and suddenly he’s got to have one too.

Billionaire sees another billionaire get a new stadium, and suddenly he’s got to have one too.

The only difference is that the first two men have to either come up with the money or get a loan if they don’t want to do without. A billionaire knows how to manipulate the system to make everyone else pay for his latest toy. Most of us can’t hire rooms full of attorneys and lobbyists like billionaires can so we simply have to fork over the cash that the billionaire wants.

Morning Reads For Monday November 12, 2012

November 12th, 2012
11:21 am

[...] of Trustees of Mercer University. No word yet from Mercer’s most famous alum Erick Erickson. – QA with Frank Poe, head of the World Congress Center. News Flash: he supports building a new [...]

jd

November 12th, 2012
11:57 am

Public Private financing is an Agenda 21 tactic… see Chip Rogers’s seminar at the state capitol (October) on this topic

The Unmutable law of Economics

November 12th, 2012
12:51 pm

Its going to line his pockets and other people are going to pay for it. Of course he supports it. Just another government parasite, living off the hard work and taxes of others. When nobody shows up to see the Falcons, revenues dry up, no Super Bowl materializes, etc. then where will this clown be – nowhere to be heard, and certainly nowhere appologizing for his promotion of this obvious special interest handout.

Dave

November 12th, 2012
2:18 pm

If Mr. Poe just gave all the reasons there are for spending $300 million in public money, the stadium should be a loser; but, this is Georgia.

nofreecheese

November 12th, 2012
6:08 pm

SportsTopFan(c)

November 12th, 2012
8:38 pm

Sports Top Fan and sports fans statewide urge the Georgia World Congress Center Authority to consider fans and taxpayers in the any decision to build a new dome stadium !!!

Fans are the heartbeat and lifeblood of sports.

In these harsh and tight economic times a new dome stadium is not high on the priority list.

SportsTopFan@Yahoo.com

DollarKing

November 13th, 2012
6:41 am

If the state pays 30% of the cost, they should get 30% of total revenue, pay 30% of total operating costs and keep 30% of total profits–no exceptions. Arthur will want 100% of the profits and with some threats to move, will probably get it.

pay up

November 13th, 2012
4:35 pm

the “chief” supports whatever the big money tells him to—legislators and the city council are getting bribed big time by arthur and the falcons to support whatever stadium arthur wants—it works—money solves anything!!! Pay up taxpayers!

mo

November 14th, 2012
2:31 pm

i dont have anything important to say…but I LOVE reading this debate.

At the end of the day, i know in my heart that this stadium WILL be built, that we might get a Super Bowl or two…and thats the end of it. ATLANTA, SAY HELLO TO YOUR NEW STADIUM. *sigh*

CB-ATL-Resident

November 14th, 2012
3:38 pm

If you don’t live in the city of Atlanta or Fulton county…shut the he** up. You have no say!

Lifelong Atlantan

November 14th, 2012
4:18 pm

The revenue Mr. Poe speaks of will in part, help pay the salaries of the people who work at the GWCCA. Undoubtedly some of his. The Ga Dome is practically paid for. Why don’t they just give it to Mr. Blank. “Here, take the Dome”. If you want to fix it up, go for it. If you want all the revenue, have at it. Cut the staff at the GWCCA,working on the publics behalf to keep up the Dome, cut Mr. Poe’s pay and target the hotel /motel tax towards something that will truly attract visitors and businesses. Use the money to hire countless more people to work on behalf of the entire city, not one billionare. A Put the money towards a safer city, cleaner streets, more educated populous, safe in-town schools and Universities (ex; Ga Tech students getting robbed and worse!). Mr. Blank you could be a true civic leader. You could send a huge message to the lousy politicians if you said, “I can make due”. Think many of us have had to “make due” the past couple of years? Heck, many of us are under water with no real end in sight. If Mr. Blank lead the way! Maybe your real legacy in Atlanta could be that you rose above your ego and saw that the city desperately needs the money spent on real issues. Talk about leadership! And while everyone is talking about the hotel / motel tax, please remember our good Mayor said he would spend upwards of $200M doing road improvements around the new facility. That is Atlanta taxpayer money! And he could pave roads, improve intersections and countless other initiatives with that money. No new facility, no need for road improvements around the Authority campus.
This is whole thing is one more example of the public getting stiffed, politicians getting perks and a billionaire reaching into someone else’s pocket to pay for his new toy.
And I would love to know if YES WAY is on the staff of the PR company the Falcons just hired or employed by a lobby firm to sway the public’s opinion. Too much Cool Aid for that one!