Taxpayers can’t spring for new Falcons stadium

It’s a great time to be an Atlanta Falcons fan. The star-laden team is coming off its biggest win of the season, and more than 70,000 fans will fill the Georgia Dome on Sunday night for a nationally televised matchup with the Chicago Bears. It delights a football nut to pen such sentences, which couldn’t have been written for most of the Falcons’ 44 years.

The franchise thinks this success offers an opportunity to agitate for replacing the 17-year-old Dome. Falcons owner Arthur Blank raised the subject yet again this month. The dream is a billion-dollar stadium with a retractable roof, built downtown or perhaps in Doraville by the end of the 2010s, and funded with public and private money.

But there could be no worse time to talk about spending any tax dollars to replace a functioning stadium, especially in financially flailing Atlanta.

Just this summer, Atlanta raised its property tax rate by 42 percent to close a $56 million budget gap. The city fiscal situation will probably get worse before it gets better, and money for a stadium means less money for other needs.

When revenues do recover, the city’s financial outlook will still be troubled. For one thing, more than $1 billion in pension liabilities will remain unfunded. Things don’t look much better for the state, which owns the Georgia Dome and could also be asked to help pay for a new stadium.

Worse, the idea is to build the new stadium just as the state finally pays off the bonds floated for the Georgia Dome. Are taxpayers expected to keep filling the trough forever?

And we’re talking about a lot of slop here. Profs. Judith Grant Long and Andrew Zimbalist have estimated nationwide that, from 2000 to 2006, the average public contribution to a new stadium’s construction and operating costs was $316 million. That was 40 percent higher than the previous five-year span.

Those figures may only rise further in the coming years, when a new stadium would be built. Atlantans, and other Georgians, have better uses for a few hundred million dollars.

OK, you may say, but what about the money a new stadium would generate? Well, economists Dennis Coates and Brad Humphreys studied the economic impact of U.S. professional sports teams from 1969 to the late 1990s, including new stadium construction. They found that pro sports teams may actually cause local incomes to fall by up to $10 per person per year.

Elected officials in Doraville and DeKalb County might keep that little statistic in mind as they consider luring the Falcons away from downtown.

Replacing a stadium, Coates says, “is likely to have the least amount of [economic] impact” for a metro area: “There’s not going to be a big increase in the number of people attending, there’s not going to be an increase in the number of concessions sold. It may be that there is a little bit of a novelty effect, but most of the NFL teams sell out all their games anyway, at least they have historically.”

On the evidence, there may never be a good time for taxpayers to subsidize a new stadium.

It may be true that the Falcons would be more profitable with a stadium that has more of the luxury suites that are so lucrative. All the more reason for the team to find its own financing in the private markets.

It may be true that the experience for fans would improve in a new stadium, as Blank suggests. All the more reason to let the fans pay for this improvement at the box office, rather than subsidizing them at the expense of people who’d prefer to spend their money watching the Braves, Hawks, Thrashers, Bulldogs or Yellow Jackets — or something other than sports.

There’s a term that fits here, one that may sound familiar to the Home Depot alum Blank.

Do it yourself.

Note: This text reflects corrections made to the original post.

55 comments Add your comment

artatlarge

October 16th, 2009
8:23 pm

I’ll be darned.
I’m in full agreement with you.
No tax money for a new stadium.

Shananeeeeeeee Fananeeeeeeeee

October 16th, 2009
8:24 pm

Exactly, Blank should do it himself if he wants it. These players are so overpaid anyway maybe they can help a little. Blank would have a lot more team budget if these pro teams went by my Pay By Performance System. Here it goes: You pay a player a base salary, for football it’s 2 million for the top players. The other sports its maybe 1.5. Then you make incentives in their contract such as games played, wins, and playoff apperance to name a few for all the players. Each position player too would have incentives. These incentives would be very generous. This system would avoid paying a player who gets hurt in the first game or the middle of the season and it would just pay them the base salary plus the incentives they hit. Even if this happened the base salary, anywhere from $500,000 – $2,000,000, would be more than enough to live on when you figure the average American family brings home $45,000 a year. This system would benefit the fans too as ticket prices and concessions would come down among other things.

Miller

October 16th, 2009
10:40 pm

No taxpayer subsidies for stadiums ever again. It is the worst form of corporate welfare going. The poor and middle-class subsidize well-to-do owners and highly-paid players. We applaud their success but they are by no means a non-profit organization. It goes back to the whole bailout concept of socializing risks and privatizing profits. If Arthur Blank is serious about it, he can offer a profit-sharing approach to the City of Atlanta to guarantee the bonds. Pay to play, Baby!

Logical Dude

October 17th, 2009
1:52 am

If it’s all about the luxury boxes, renovate the current dome, and add a bunch of luxury boxes. DUH. But Blank should pay for it, with funds from his buddies who want the luxury boxes. We can call them Blank boxes.

jconservative

October 17th, 2009
8:25 am

electrician

October 17th, 2009
8:42 am

subsidizing a new stadium on the backs of a lot of people that cant afford a ticket,and a city that cant afford to pay its bills.NEVER MR.BLANK……NEVER!

Alan

October 17th, 2009
8:54 am

Completley agree with you on this one Kyle – they don’t need a new stadium anyway. And if Blank does want some luxury boxes – let him and his rich buddies, and the players pony up the money!

ohmy

October 17th, 2009
9:53 am

more throw-away society. I agree.

Repukes ALL Suck Eggs

October 17th, 2009
10:02 am

Uh Oh, Kyle, U R gonna git fired…Nobody gits to go against the wishes of Arthur in Atlanta. 10, 9, 8….How long till Kyle prints a retraction or announces he is leaving? For what it is worth, I agree with U.

Not Going To Use My Usual Name

October 17th, 2009
10:24 am

Kyle, I don’t know what to think. I’m agreeing with a conservative. I’m going to go get my heart checked–it might’ve shrunk last night!

A

October 17th, 2009
10:32 am

Stadium? We need another one? Aren’t they supposed to last longer than 17 years? The good ones become historical monuments. Arthur, go feed your fish.

Sally Flocks

October 17th, 2009
12:01 pm

Public Works estimates that Atlanta has a $750 million backlog of broken sidewalks, outdated or malfunctioning traffic signals, and streets that need resurfacing. A bond referendum that pays for infrastructure maintenance would be a much smarter investment for the people of Atlanta than replacing a 17-year old football stadium.

GaLiberal

October 17th, 2009
12:12 pm

I find myself in the unique position of agreeing with this anti-tax, anti-consumer Republican shill, but for entirely different reasons. Yes, these sports stadiums are a bad deal for taxpayers. The already uberrich team owners get to line their pockets with a huge public subsidy. Also, these stadiums create only low-paying minimum wage jobs. The owners get most of the gate while the taxpayers must bear the cost of maintenance and improvements. A study done several years ago found that these sports stadiums was a negative return for the taxpayers while the owners get a huge taxpayer subsidized windfall. If Blank wants a new stadium, let him buy the land, build it, and maintain it out of his pocket; not the taxpayers.

Joan

October 17th, 2009
12:13 pm

Totally agree. I wouldn’t go see an NFL game anyway, given the thugs that play. And if the players and Blank want a new stadium, let them pay for it. I am out of money. Also, city of Atlanta, don’t you want to keep them at the Dome?? I think keeping them downtown is the best idea. Why pollute the suburbs?

RK

October 17th, 2009
2:56 pm

We need a soccer stadium for a new MLS team more than we need a new football shrine. Doraville, at the GM plant, is a great location.

Important News - Oct. 17 update 1

October 17th, 2009
4:16 pm

[...] 3) Taxpayers can’t spring for new Falcons stadium [...]

hryder

October 17th, 2009
5:37 pm

Los Angeles seems to have not missed a beat as a major city since NFL football departed. If LaLa land handles such a situation without major distress “normal” major cities should easily survive without tax expenditures and other governmental bribes to attract or retain a major professional sports franchise.

Fred

October 17th, 2009
7:39 pm

Uhh, “A” @ 10:32, Arthur doesn’t have any fish. Bernie has the fish.

Frank

October 17th, 2009
7:57 pm

The Dome is a perfectly fine stadium. As far as I know, it is paid for and as I was just there, it looks to be in fine shape. Blank needs to find something else to spin. Instead of blowing 1 billion on a stadium we don’t need, how about hiring alot more cops? Or fixing the sewers?
Wow! What a stupid idea, using money to do something the city actually really needs!!!
Maybe if Blank spent time w/ some of our homeless downtown or worked in a soup kitchen a few days a week he might get motivated to do something actually worthwhile!!!
He lives in fantasy land; it’s like living in a house where the roof’s falling in and demanding the neighbors pay for a new front door!

Bob

October 17th, 2009
8:36 pm

This is a good message to send to EVERY Sports Team Owner! NO MORE Taxpayer subsidies!

John

October 17th, 2009
11:32 pm

I’ve never been to a sporting event at the bowl or stadium and never will. Why should I have to pay for this crap? When Bernie wanted to do something for the city he built the aquarium; he didn’t ask for us to build him an aquarium to satisfy his needs. ARTHUR, YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELF.

Hatin'on the stupid

October 17th, 2009
11:34 pm

I think this makes it unanimous. We all agree. A politician somewhere must have felt a shiver. Folks, we have a lot more in common than differences. I realized that reading Bob Barr. It’s just that we’re more valuable to special interests if we’re kept divided, and every little difference is exaggerated like salt in a picked wound.

Bill

October 17th, 2009
11:36 pm

No new stadium, but yet you’re all for Obama and record deficits, and Obamacide. Go figure.

real fan

October 18th, 2009
9:25 am

Hey Doraville,you dont want itthen fine build it in gwinnett . We will gladly support it. Yall are too ignorant to recognize the true value of having aworld class facility . Ask your hotel and local restaraunts what they think . Not to mention Your all precious Marta system . Cmon out here Arthur we would love the new buiseness . We even have room for decent parking .

Eric

October 18th, 2009
9:53 am

On most issues you’re a total moron. But you got this one right.

Joan

October 18th, 2009
9:55 am

Kyle: How about writing about the fact that we are being asked to send $1.9 billion to Afghanistan to rebuild their “infrastructure” when we can’t even afford to repair the little bridge on Peachtree Dunwoody. And look into where all the “stimulus” money went. All it went to were keeping government jobs, like teachers, streetworkers, cops. It didn’t stimulate a darn thing and never will. And now, they want to do another stimulus. I am so disgusted with this Congress and President that I could scream.

JohnD

October 18th, 2009
10:52 am

I’m all for the Falcons moving to Gwinnett and let those Wing-Nuts tax themselves to give Blank a new stadium. Its not like traffic can get much worse in Gwinnett anyway.

It will help keep the knuckle-draggin’ rednecks out of Atlanta on Sundays and that seals the deal for me.

Geaux Saints.

R Pitts

October 18th, 2009
10:54 am

This will likely be one of the few times I agree with you, but you are right on. I live in ATL, and if it comes to a vote, there is no way I’ll vote for a taxpayer financed new stadium. The GA Dome is a great facility and was just renovated! I feel sure that for a much lower price that they could do some renovations/revisions that would be plenty adequate in 2017 or so.

esa

October 18th, 2009
11:03 am

Arthur doesn’t want a new stadium. What he wants is a new contract that allows him to keep more of the concession and ticket revenue. Why not renegotiate the contract instead of abandoning the perfectly good infrastructure you have.

What kills me is that Bernie and Arthur retired to become philanthropists and their idea of philanthropy is an aquarium and an NFL team. Why don’t they go feed someone that is hungry, cure a disease, build a library, fund a school, endow some scholarships. I know they have done some of all of that but it’s a real tragedy that their legacies are going to be a fish tank, a thousand abandoned big box retail locations and a vacant 70,000 seat stadium that is perfectly functional.

We all know that before long, Arthur is going to be threatening to take the team somewhere that will build him a new stadium so when all the owners drop trou and compare size his will be the biggest. Let me be the first to respond. Go ahead Arthur. Take the team. We will be just fine without them. But don’t kid yourself by thinking you have given anything back to the city.

BamaBirDawg

October 18th, 2009
11:44 am

It’s a curious thing, stadiums and their impact on communities. The same can be said for NFL franchises and perhaps, most everything in life; you just don’t (or can’t) appreciate it until it’s gone.

Right now, things are tough all over and not the time to even raise the issue of a new stadium. It is due to ellicit negativity from all quarters. But what goes down, usually comes back up. The economy will improve and what seems like a burden today will be a lucrative opportunity tomorrow… especially in a city where nothing is beyond possibility.

The Falcons are and, even in those darkest of days, have always been a valuable asset. So has the ability to present a great venue for the people of not just Atlanta, but the entire region. So… try not to soak the issue with today’s negativity because tomorrow is, after all, another day :)

AF

October 18th, 2009
11:50 am

Let the owners and players pay for a new stadium. They will be the owners and can make all the money for themselves. Or they won’t, if ticket prices have to be astronomical to cover the cost. It is okay with me if they eat cake as long as they pay for the ingredients and bake the cake.

There is a whole heck of a lot more of the “public” that doesn’t go to games than do go to games. Why should those who don’t go pay for those who do? Frankly, I would rather there be more support for the Atlanta Symphony.

brad

October 18th, 2009
12:08 pm

Bill…I was wondering how long it would take for someone to mention Obama on a completely unrelated issue. You repubs sure don’t disappoint! But if you want to talk about record deficits you might also want to mention the president that started with a surplus and left eight years later with the economy in shambles, at the last minute giving corrupt lenders a no-strings attached windfall.

For what it’s worth, I’m with you Kyle. Atlanta has given enough for stadiums.

It's Not there

October 18th, 2009
2:54 pm

Popular support for the Falcons is not high enough to support building a new stadium, and much less should the stadium leave downtown and go to the suburbs.

Algonquin J. Calhoun

October 18th, 2009
6:10 pm

Many years ago, long before the Falcons went to a Super Bowl, Rankin Smith, the Falcons’ owner, campaigned for a new stadium to replace Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. There was substantial opposition to tax payers being on the hook for something to, essentially, benefit one man. Mr. Smith, who had done little to make the Falcons a winning team, became threatening when it appeared his entreaties were being ignored. The AJC even covered his visit to Jacksonville, the Jags didn’t exist then, and his tour of an existing stadium there. Right after that the government of Atlanta, and of Georgia, caved! The monstrosity that is the Georgia Dome was built. That scenario will play out again if too much resistance is encountered. Now, the Dome is a lousy place. It’s better now, not quite as depressing with the new interior, but it’s not a place I like to go. The difference now, as compared to when the Falcons threatened abandonment before, is we’ve got something to lose now! The Falcons are a good team, with good management, excellent coaching and players who can really play. We don’t want the team sneaking out in the middle of the night as the Colts did in Baltimore, or bolting for a whore city as Cleveland did when the Ravens took flight. Unlike Cleveland, Baltimore and Houston, when our team is gone there’ll be no replacement franchise. Would Los Angeles hand over a mint for a team? They would! Would they build a new stadium, give up concessions, parking and build a ton of luxury suites? Better believe it! Atlanta fancies itself a major American city and has a team in every major league of every major sport that anyone cares about. Losing an NFL franchise would reflect badly on the city and would indicate a move in status downward. That won’t fly! A new stadium will be built! How it’s paid for is yet to be determined but it will be built!

Joe Vann

October 18th, 2009
6:28 pm

Micro economics suggest any subsidies result in over consumption. But, society is already subsidizing professional sports, regardless of public or private stadiums in the United States. The empirical data is clear – from an efficiency point you are correct; from an equity position your view is debatable. However, I support the GM location – anything to get away from the corruption, crime and poor facilities in the Atl. Joe Vann, Snellville

Brad Steel

October 18th, 2009
9:30 pm

If the tax-subsidy helps Rush Limbaugh or his cronies, I don’t see how you conservative types could go against approving some more corporate welfare. Sure as hell hasn’t stop you in dishing it out to the health insurance companies, the oil companies, big pharma. Wall Street or the military contractors.

Why would chump-change from Atlanta taxpayers make you grow moral all of a sudden?

If it keeps the fat, truck-driving rednecks out of downtown and in Gwinnett, I’m all for it.

ezm

October 19th, 2009
8:50 am

Dear Mr Wingfield…I like reading your columns..but on this issue you are a little misinformed. Over the years Arthur Blank has said often that that HE would have to foot the majority of the bill of a Falcons stadium…I dont recall him asking local governments to do more besides land and roads…I know that the Falcons have been looking for sites for potential stadium locations( GM Doraville, Kennesaw State to name 2 locations)..Again I know that taxation is HIGH…but I dont know of an instance where Blank had asked a local government to pay for his stadium.

StJ

October 19th, 2009
9:03 am

The Dome is only 17 years old?? What was the projected lifespan of the building when it was built – 30, 40, 50 years?

If the Falcons want more expen$ive skyboxes, the existing stadium can be renovated to accomodate them…at their own expense, of course.

Just say NO to corporate welfare!!

lmno

October 19th, 2009
9:15 am

The problem is simply that the Dome was not a well conceived stadium from the start. It has no personality.

But, I agree, we can’t affford a new stadium. We will have to make do with what we have.

F-105 Thunderchief

October 19th, 2009
9:23 am

The dome is still relatively new for heaven’s sake and there’s nothing wrong with it. Blank needs to build any new stadium himself. I expect he can get a good deal on building materials.

[...] Some opinion: Kyle Wingfield says taxpayers can’t spring for new Falcons stadium. [...]

Mike

October 19th, 2009
10:55 am

I agree with you that we should not pay for a new stadium, but did you not know that the city of Atlanta is not involved in the dome’s financing? It is the STATE, and more specifically, an agency of the state. This piece, which includes ramblings about the city’s finances, and the city’s liability to pay off the Georgia Dome bonds, is therefore rather nonsensical because it begins with an untrue premise borne out of ignorance.

Chris Broe

October 19th, 2009
11:11 am

Liked the Falcons yesterday. Chicago threw everything it had at them.

Anyone check out Mora’s panty-laced excuses for the Seahawks’ loss yesterday? He does not belong in football. He actually snivels when he goes on and on with absurd run-on sentences in front of the media. He is not a man. Football needs men. Ditto Jim Zorn. (Were these two separated at birth?) Gadzooks girls, man-up!

I love wins. Wins are my favorite thing about sports. They make me happy, and after a win on Sunday, I can face a Monday.

I hate Mondays. They’re only good to me when the Falcons WIN!!!

Marcos

October 19th, 2009
12:23 pm

Why should this burden fall on Atlanta and not the State. It’s time our legislature quit kicking this city around and stepped up to the plate. (Sorry fo the baseball metaphor in a football conversation)

JF McNamara

October 19th, 2009
12:52 pm

If its single use for the Falcons only, they need to raise ticket prices or use their licensing/TV money to pay for it. They can rent it out to the State for playoff games and events if they want, but the Georgia Dome doesn’t seem in bad condition to me and can be used for those events.

Unless we need a stadium for some state purpose, then its a poor use of funds. As Kyle alluded above, there won’t be any new revenues and just a revenue shift from one area to another.

Joe Obvious

October 19th, 2009
1:00 pm

My first visit to the GA Dome was a week ago, and I was impressed it is huge, good seats, its simple, but it gets the job done. Blank’s being a punk and wants his own stadium b/c he wants to be like his buddy in Dallas.

He should just seek to buy the GA dome, and do a little sprucing up of his own and enhance it.

Shoot if people went out and bought a new house everytime they wanted to improve their house he would be broke.

Cutty

October 19th, 2009
4:33 pm

The City of Atlanta does not own the Georgia Dome, the state goes. Therefore, the State is responsible for paying the bonds off, not Atlanta. Silly little things called facts.

Kyle Wingfield

October 19th, 2009
4:45 pm

Cutty: You are right. I am correcting the text now.

Susan

October 20th, 2009
1:42 pm

Mr. Wingfield,
Thank you for your thoughtful comments “Stadium idea looks like a loser” October 18, 2009. You are absolutely right. The residents of Doraville, several groups of planners and our own duly elected officials on the Doraville City Council are aware of the points you’ve made in your article and therefore have been consistantly planning for years to redevelop the GM site as a mixed use development with some residential development, some employment centers, some parks and green space and maybe a small civic center after the site is cleaned up. We view this area as a tremendous potential resource for the whole metro area. As our DeKalb CEO, Mr. Ellis, has said to our Mayor nothing planned for this space will work without the support of the City and people of Doraville. I wish Mr. Blank and his colleagues would accept those facts and stop using us as a bargaining tool in their negotiations about their stadium contract.

[...] the 17-year-old Dome. Falcons owner Arthur Blank raised the subject yet again this month. The dream is a billion-dollar stadium with a retractable roof, built downtown or perhaps in Doraville by the end of the 2010s and funded with public and private [...]