Gov. Nathan Deal recently said “there’s got to be a little further explanation to the public, and probably to the members of the General Assembly,” as to why tax dollars should be used to replace the Georgia Dome before its 25th birthday. He’s right.
That explanation must come from the Georgia World Congress Authority, the state agency that runs the Dome, and/or the Atlanta Falcons, the loudest voice calling for the Dome’s replacement with a $1 billion, retractable-roof stadium. About $300 million of that cost would be paid by Atlanta hotel/motel tax revenues, but only if legislators and Deal agree to raise the authority’s bonding limit. The Falcons and the NFL would cover the rest.
I’m hardly naive about the ability of powerful people to get what they want, and Falcons owner Arthur Blank no doubt qualifies as just such a person. So does Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who backs the project. And I’m hardly a supporter of ditching the Dome, as I’ve written before.
But if the GWCA and the Falcons decide to heed these admonitions and make their case publicly, here are two questions they might answer.
The Dome opened just 20 years ago and has undergone at least one significant renovation. I attended two football games there just last year — and plan to be there again for next month’s Southeastern Conference football championship — and can attest it’s a fine place to watch a football game.
So far, the primary rationale for the proposed timeline of opening a new stadium by 2017 is that’s when the bonds for the Dome will be paid off. Well, that and the fact the Falcons believe they can make more money from a new, more modern stadium, and would like to start doing so ASAP.
But the Falcons’ profitability is of little concern to Atlantans, and we aren’t required to have debt obligations tied to a stadium every year. There are many ways the city could use several million dollars a year even if it the money were freed only temporarily.
(Yes, using the hotel/motel revenues for other purposes would require a change in state law. So would raising the GWCA’s bonding capacity.)
Even if we accept the need for a new stadium at some point, there’s the question of why tax dollars should help fund it. Which leads to: What’s in it for taxpayers?
The economic benefits of stadiums notoriously tend to be exaggerated. And it’s not as if we don’t already have a domed stadium in Atlanta, so the benefits of a newer stadium are even less obvious.
One intriguing aspect of a new stadium, from a fiscal perspective, is the possibility it would host more events. The tentative terms agreed to by the GWCA and the Falcons call for the state to own the building while the Falcons “operate” it.
In theory, this means the Falcons, as a private entity, can take more financial risks than a state agency should in recruiting performers and events. In theory, this means the new stadium would be used more days of the year than the Dome, bringing in more money.
But how many more? Leading to how much more money? How much money could we expect to come from out of town — rather than from locals who would simply spend less elsewhere in our region?
How much business could nearby hotels, restaurants and other establishments expect? And, in turn, how much might this boost city coffers to offset the tax revenue devoted to the new stadium?
Stadium skeptics won’t be satisfied without answers to these kinds of questions. Let’s hear them.
– By Kyle Wingfield