This is the way it used to work in sports: Build a stadium for a sports team. Decades later, when it grew old and weathered and shingles began to fall from the roof and maybe the rats began to build condominiums, there would be discussion about tearing it down and starting over.
This is the way it works now in sports: Build a stadium for a sports team. A decade or two later (maybe), when the building ceases in its perceived ability to generate enough revenue for the sports owner, then it’s time to build a new one to make him happy.
There is an increasing likelihood that the Georgia Dome, which opened 20 years ago, is going to be torn down, giving way to a retractable roof stadium. The cost of the new palace: $947 million. This assumes it doesn’t go up (which it will) or Groupon doesn’t run a special on stadium seats and drink holders.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank has long ago expressed his desire for a new stadium, and as a general rule when self-made billionaires express an interest in something, they get it. Give the man credit for this: He’s probably going to pull this off without once alienating the public by threatening to move his team to Los Angeles, Toronto or London, or just selling it to Winnipeg. That’s not an easy feat.
As Blank has said to me on a few occasions about the stadium issue, “It’s kind of like making sausage.” In other words, it’s best to just enjoy the finished product rather than focus on the ugly details of how it came to be.
But there’s something wrong with this. There’s something wrong when a perfectly good building is scheduled to be detonated. There’s something wrong when even one taxpayer dollar – let alone $300 million – is used toward somebody’s football stadium. Do we have other economic issues, or is that all just a political smear campaign?
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against the Falcons having a new stadium. I certainly have nothing against Blank, who has been as strong and beloved of a sports owner as this city ever has had. It’s difficult not to like Blank as a person, a businessman and a sports fan. He is passionate and generous. He is neither a corporate logo nor a buffoon, two things we see far too much of in sports ownership.
It’s also easy to understand Blank’s position on this: He can’t generate enough revenue in the Georgia Dome – enough being relative to the giant ATM-like stadiums that exist in Dallas, Washington and New York. The Georgia Dome doesn’t have enough suites, enough signage, enough martini bars. It’s the reason the Falcons’ overall value pales in comparison to that of other NFL franchises.
But the Georgia Dome is just fine for spectators. It’s just fine for teams. It’s just fine for a Final Four or a monster truck race or a trade show. Nobody is affected by the fact that it doesn’t make a sufficient “cha-ching” sound for the Falcons other than the Falcons’ owner.
New buildings are nice. But the Falcons are a private business, not a post office or a branch of government. I just happen to believe that business owners should pay for the building that houses their business. I know – such a quaint and novel thought.
It’s true that Blank and the Georgia World Congress Center Authority are going to be partners in this venture. But the fact remains that the GWCC would not be seeking a new building if the Falcons didn’t want one. It shouldn’t matter that the $300 million contribution for the proposed new stadium is coming from a hotel-motel sales tax and therefore not directly coming out of the pockets of most Atlanta residents. I’m just as angry any time I travel to another city and have to pay a tax for a stadium or arena there for the same reason.
Too many stadiums are being built today because cities are held hostage by sports franchises — and I say this somebody who grew up as a sports fan and makes their living covering the teams.
A new stadium would look lovely, yes. But the Georgia Dome isn’t a scar on downtown. Other areas of downtown are the scars. What’s being done about that? Would $300 million help?
The building isn’t crumbling. Our priorities are.
By Jeff Schultz