Does Atlanta need a new stadium? No, but it’s getting one

Frank Poe and Rich McKay, laughing all the way to the construction site. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Frank Poe and Rich McKay, laughing all the way to the construction site. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

On Monday, the man charged with making the Atlanta Falcons’ pitch for a new stadium actually made a case for the current one. “We don’t need a building to play in next Sunday,” team president Rich McKay said. “The Georgia Dome is a good building. We love playing in it. (Falcons coach) Mike Smith has an incredible record in it.”

So why, if the Dome is dandy, was McKay sitting at a dais with Frank Poe, executive director of the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, briefing the assembled media an hour after the GWCCA board unanimously approved terms that will surely lead to the building of a new stadium?

Because in sports as in life, new and shiny trumps tried and true. The Dome opened in 1992, and it’s a nice place two decades on, but by 2017 it’ll be gone, having been rendered superfluous by its billion dollar baby brother.

Said McKay: “We need a new stadium for the long term, and the natural time to do that is at the end of a lease.”

The Falcons’ lease with the Dome is due to expire around 2017, and that was their pressure point. They didn’t threaten to leave town – “There was not a 1995-type lever,” McKay said, speaking of the days when teams told cities to build a new stadium or else – but they did make it known they had no interest in re-upping this lease. That left the GWCCA, which runs the Dome, with a choice it didn’t know it would have to make: Do we ditch a perfectly sound building to placate our biggest tenant?

To their credit, Poe and associates forged a not-terrible solution. The Falcons stand to foot 70 percent of the $1 billion it will take to erect a new stadium, with public money – roughly $300 million from a hotel-motel tax that affects mostly non-Georgians – making up the difference. There are those who wonder if that $300 million wouldn’t be better used to upgrade infrastructure or further education, but this leads us to the unanswerable question: Why should ballplayers earn millions while schoolteachers make do with thousands?

In pro sports, a new stadium is almost always a shared venture, and far less public money will be earmarked toward the Falcons’ new home than was the case, say, in Indianapolis with the Colts and Lucas Oil Stadium. That’s as it should be: The Falcons are the ones who wanted this, and they should pay the most.

When this new-stadium balloon was first floated, the thought was that the GWCCA might be so cowed by Arthur Blank that it handed the famous owner everything he wanted. Instead the Falcons will settle for one stadium — they first wanted the Dome to remain in place just down the street, a notion laughable on its face – with a retractable roof (as opposed to an open-air facility). And the site itself, which hasn’t officially been determined, figures to be south of the Dome, not north.

The GWCCA didn’t stop the Blank Express, but it slowed the momentum to the point that a compromise could be reached. The Falcons get what they wanted most, which is the right to control nearly everything about their new stadium and bank the money that comes with concession and parking – “We want to touch the customer in every way possible,” McKay said, surely not least in the wallet — but the edifice will remain the property of the state of Georgia.

In these uncertain times, handing $300 million in tax money to fund a stadium that will be run by a team owned by a billionaire isn’t an easy sell, especially when the building that team occupies is presentable enough that it will, come April, stage the big-ticket Final Four. But the Falcons had leverage – they could move to Doraville and leave the Dome vacant on NFL Sundays – and they applied it. The GWCAA fought its corner and will get what amounts to a newer Dome. Maybe everybody won’t win in this, but there shouldn’t be many losers.

And if not … well, nothing is forever. The Falcons will be obliged to stay in their new home for 30 years. Sometime around Year 20, they’ll start angling for something bigger and brighter. That’s the way of our world. Everybody wants the latest iPhone, even if the old one works fine. Every professional team wants a new stadium, even if the existing place still looks pretty darn good.

By Mark Bradley

357 comments Add your comment

pdog

December 10th, 2012
2:04 pm

Mark Bradley

December 10th, 2012
2:06 pm

Kudos, pdog.

colorado falcons fan

December 10th, 2012
2:13 pm

I hope this isn’t the best news for the Falcons this week. Would rather it be that they righted the ship and beat defending Super Bowl Champs.

I'm The Slime

December 10th, 2012
2:18 pm

So the new stadium will be retractable roof? Grass or turf? Is that anywhere close to being decided?

Weyman C. Wannamaker Jr. (A Great American)

December 10th, 2012
2:18 pm

Dang… third?

Weyman C. Wannamaker Jr. (A Great American)

December 10th, 2012
2:20 pm

Nope… missed that too.

If the Falcons need a new stadium so blooming badly… let Arthur Blank poney up the money. Seat licenses? Paying just for the right to buy season tickets??

Ellabell1

December 10th, 2012
2:22 pm

The dome is just fine. If they want to build a new one, fine. If they want to be friendly to their fans fine, then they need to make the seating better. Right now if you weigh more than 100 lbs, your squished between your neighbors. That’s my only beef.

Benjamin

December 10th, 2012
2:22 pm

Frankly, I don’t like the Dome and never have. I think it’s a blight, even. lol

That said, I do think that this city needs to start looking on important matters when it comes to where we allocate our funds.

JOHN

December 10th, 2012
2:24 pm

This is an outrage to the people of Georgia We do not need a new stadium

Rover Cleveland

December 10th, 2012
2:25 pm

Do the Falcons need a new stadium ? Not Really….Should they get a new stadium ? Sure, why not…Hopefully with it won’t have a negative effect on the taxes that the citizens of Atlanta have to pay !!

Bimbo16

December 10th, 2012
2:25 pm

Will it a Victoria Secret or a Fredericks of Hollywood inside?

Vel Crow

December 10th, 2012
2:26 pm

Turner Field will be 20 years old in 2016, what happens if Liberty Media makes a case that they need a new venue MB?

mike

December 10th, 2012
2:26 pm

this whole thing is just stupidity to me (the idea of a new stadium, not your article). Let the Falcons walk away. Don’t believe for a second that Blank will uproot team and his operations to another city. Wish GWCCA would play hardball with them.

DECATUR JOE

December 10th, 2012
2:26 pm

How much is the seat license fee going to be per year?

Peter

December 10th, 2012
2:27 pm

Education is a need in Georgia…….but hey the Republican’s are in charge….so screw education.

Born2Buzz

December 10th, 2012
2:27 pm

Anybody that doesn’t think getting a $1B stadium with the state only putting up $300M is crazy. That’s $700M going into the economy that we would never see.

The Dome is OK. But let’s make the new Dome a marvel and something for the City to be proud of.
It would be nice if the team playing in it was the same. :)

Raise those Tourism Taxes, Again

December 10th, 2012
2:29 pm

Yup – at a time when tourism is struggling, the infinitely wise Atlanta city council is going to increase taxes on tourists to replace a 20 yr old perfectly modern Domed Stadium (take that, Green Bay fans!) with a newer, fancier dome. Can’t afford to pay teachers, firefighters, or provide save roads or fix sewers, but we can afford to build a Billionaire a new play fort for his kids. All I can say is it’s time to relocate to a different state.

Doraville to the rescue

December 10th, 2012
2:29 pm

Wish they had gone to the GM site – the Braves could have met them there in a couple of years. That site would have been the birthplace of sports fun in Atlanta.

PTC DAWG

December 10th, 2012
2:32 pm

I say build it and let the hotel/motel tax pay for it.

Don Abernethy

December 10th, 2012
2:32 pm

Money will decide this one. Those who will prosper from it (Contractors,politicians,team owners) against those who have to pay for it. Somehow no matter what the people think enough money will be spent to slide this past the people. You will hear all kinds of stories of why this is great for Atlanta and Georgia. The people are about to be raped.

PTC DAWG

December 10th, 2012
2:35 pm

One more thing, the Hotel/Motel tax is NOT going to be allocated for anything other than tourism…..so folks can leave the “we need to spend more on education out of this”.

Last time I checked, if your “public” school isn’t good enough, there are a lot of Private options.

C. Doug C.

December 10th, 2012
2:35 pm

What happens to the Georgia Dome. Tear it down? Really?

Rick James

December 10th, 2012
2:37 pm

@Vel Crow

Turner Field will be 20 years old in 2016, what happens if Liberty Media makes a case that they need a new venue MB?
———————————————————————————————————————————
I think they are next in line and it wouldnt surprise me to see them head for the suburbs..

Devil's Advocate

December 10th, 2012
2:37 pm

Are you going to relocate to a different state that recently built a new stadium? LOL.

Somebody Please Tell me

December 10th, 2012
2:38 pm

Will somebody please tell me why Atlanta has to have a new stadium to get another Super Bowl but that 45 year old skank hole in New Orleans can still get them. Please, Please Please tell me.

Paul in NH

December 10th, 2012
2:38 pm

I see that the NFL is still a believer in socialism – the draft, revenue sharing, public money for stadia

John

December 10th, 2012
2:38 pm

I am a huge sports fan and a democrat who is not against taxing for legitimate causes. This simply is not needed.

JTull

December 10th, 2012
2:39 pm

Now I don’t feel so bad for pooping in a concessions closet in the Dome at a Falcons game last year.

All I'm Saying Is....

December 10th, 2012
2:39 pm

Doraville to the rescue: Yeah, just what that non-MARTA stop area of town needs—another traffic generator. And don’t give me the argument about buses ferrying people from the nearest station.

The way I see it, the only problem with this deal is that the new stadium will not sit practically on top of a MARTA station like the Georgia Dome does providing an alternative means of transportation even if you would (like I do) prefer to drive.

Get with the program people! Facts are our friends and here are the facts:

1) The Georgia Dome is not ‘old’ but it is out-of-date
2) A retractable roof stadium with dozens of corporate suites and all the latest in high tech features is what’s needed for the next 20-30 years if you want to remain a player in the NFL, host other major sporting events (Super Bowl, Chik-Fil-A Bowl, NCAA College Basketball Final Four, College Football Season Opening Games, etc.) and support all types of convention events.
3) The City of Atlanta hotel/motel tax falls squarely 99% of the time on tourists and visitors – not residents
4) Spending the hotel/motel tax on “something else” is not currently legally possible and was never going to happen anyway and wishing it was not going to make it so. The only other option was for the tourist tax being eliminating which makes no fiscal sense as it would only benefit non-residents.

This is the best outcome if you want to keep your NFL franchise and want to keep the Georgia World Congress Center competitive in the convention hosting business.

LET’S GO FALCONS!

barack obummer

December 10th, 2012
2:41 pm

YOU didn’t build anything, thanks gubmint!!!!!

Bo Duke

December 10th, 2012
2:42 pm

MB where have you been?

Sanity

December 10th, 2012
2:43 pm

So, let’s get this straight. The pressure on the GWCCA to spend $300 million of taxpayer funds was that Mr Blank would build a new stadium on his own in Doraville? Are you kidding? What is the question? Let him move to a new stadium wherever he wants it to be. He is not stupid, he is a businessman that will make a business decision to risk his own funds, so the location will make sense or he will suffer a poor investment or go bankrupt like other business owners. This is a capitalist system we live in and just because Obama is president does not mean that everyone thinks like him that everyone gets stuff for free because we can borrow now and pay for it later. In this case, it is stick it to tourists, and use their tax dollars toward a private citizen’s business rather than to the public’s “needs” such as badly needed capital improvements.

david

December 10th, 2012
2:43 pm

Ticket price will go up!!!! Count on it. Wonder how ticket sells will be if Ryan is on the down side of his career by then? This is BS ,why not let the hotel money go for better hospitals and schools?

lowdownjj

December 10th, 2012
2:44 pm

Hey Mark. Good to hear from you again. Was beginning to wonder if you left town. As far as the new stadium goes, I can barely afford to see the Falcons play at the dome. Can only imagine what a trip to the new stadium will cost. Guess I’ll be chearing my Falcons from the couch

Justineisu

December 10th, 2012
2:44 pm

I blame no one but the voters of this State and the rest of the country. You put these stupid idiots in office and every election you reelect them. When you vote for them you know they are only for the rich but you still vote for them. So which one of you guys is stupid. Surely not the elected officials who decided it is better to build a stadium than fix the education and medical care needs of this state. Perhaps it might be those who voted for them and will continue to vote for them. The US is one of the few countries where the people accept whatever is given to them.

sliderule

December 10th, 2012
2:45 pm

All of the payoffs have been set, hey, let’s start building!

bill

December 10th, 2012
2:45 pm

Same old Atlanta sky high crime, sky high commute times, crappy schools Grady is broke but Mr. Blank he need a new stadium for his toy. Remember when he was the hero of the ten dollar ticket? Seat taxes of around 2500 a seat and then you will be shuffled and your season ticket will be much worse than where you sit now. Have we forgotten the super bowl seat promise and the people locked out without a ticket. Have we forgotten the way the Braves revamped prives and seat locations which moved 25 year season ticket holders much farther from the field of play ? Fans be prepared for a good screwing and remeber without a receipt you can only get a store credit.

All I'm Saying Is....

December 10th, 2012
2:45 pm

And, by the way, the Braves already received a sweetheart deal when they were on the winning end of the Olympic Stadium revamp. No one said that we had to get rid of the Olympic Stadium but it was done expressly for the Braves. So they can cry me a river when their lease is up but they are not going to get to eat from the same public trough twice in a lifetime.

And save your comments about them moving to the ‘burbs. The Gwinnett [sp.] experience of their Triple A farm team will caution them against the idea of moving away from downtown as sellout attendance is not just about one group of fans be it season ticket holders, out-of-towners, or suburbanites—it is about the one spot that all roads lead to and, right now, there is no where else in this state and very few places in this nation where three major interstate highways (75, 85, and 20) converge like right where Turner Field is at this writing.

LET’S GO BRAVES!

J-bone

December 10th, 2012
2:46 pm

More money won’t ‘further education’, so don’t worry about that.

smock

December 10th, 2012
2:47 pm

Now 2 of our 3 major stadiums will not be convenient to MARTA stations. We really know what we’re doing.

Sanity

December 10th, 2012
2:47 pm

Comment to those saying that we cannot allocate the hotel tax to other uses. I say, sorry but that argument does not fly unless you think the GA legislature has shut down. This is simply current law, which can be changed and when $300 million is at issue, changing the law does not seem like such a big deal.

MaxxFalcon

December 10th, 2012
2:49 pm

To the folks who say we don’t “need” a new stadium, you are absolutely right. Theoretically, the Dome would suffice as a football venue for decades to come. However, in the NFL, “need” is a relative word. The Giants/Jets could have continued playing in Meadowlands Stadium, The Cardinals could have stayed at Sun Devil Stadium, the Cowboys could have stayed at their facility, Pitt could stil be playing at Three Rivers, San Francisco could stay at Candlestick, etc. The issue is how the Dome compares to other NFL stadiums, and it is certainly subpar these days. Also, Roger Goodell promised us that Atlanta will never house another Super Bowl in the Georgia Dome. Bringing the Super Bowl back to Atlanta is a major selling point for this new stadium. Even though we don’t “need” a new stadium to play football in, we definitely need a new stadium to bring the Super Bowl back to Atlanta, and in the eyes of ownership, we need a new stadium to keep our fan experience and revenues competitive.

Concerned Atlantan

December 10th, 2012
2:49 pm

Mark,

I’m very concerned $300M in taxpayer money will get spent without a public referendum. The idea it’s a tax on non-Atlantans is a sham. Most hotel travelers are businessmen, consultants, lawyers, and company employees that bill those expenses right back to the companies here in Atlanta paying for them. This leads to lower profits, less corporate jobs, and a desire for companies to move their headquarters to more tax friendly locations (e.g., Alpharetta or outside of GA). Or worse, this is a tax on pay by the week/month motels that attract customers without the income or credit to secure a full apartment – I’m sure the type of people we want to subsidize Arthur Blank. This thing stinks and it got crammed down Atlantans throats without a single say in the matter.

SSIgator

December 10th, 2012
2:49 pm

“Does Atlanta need a new stadium? No, but it’s getting one.”
________________

That is like saying, “Does UGA need St. Markus Rectumus & Company? No, but don’t tell the Kool-Aid Club members.”

bill

December 10th, 2012
2:49 pm

Actually Turner Field was paid for by Olympic tickets and then at the end as he promised Ted Turner wrote a check for whatever shortfall there was to cdconvert the Olympic stadium for baseball only.He paid from personal funds not government not Braves personal funds of 27 Million Dollars. Its why its clled Turner Field and why the new Falcons dome will not be called Blank Field.

tooltime234

December 10th, 2012
2:50 pm

I hadn’t thought about the MARTA aspect. It is really nice that you have another method of transportation to get to the games currently. It would not seem like a prudent move to put the stadium not close to mass transit

F. Sinkwich

December 10th, 2012
2:50 pm

“The Falcons stand to foot 70 percent of the $1 billion it will take to erect a new stadium, with public money – roughly $300 million from a hotel-motel tax that affects mostly non-Georgians – making up the difference.”

I agree that’s not a bad deal, Mark. A new stadium benefits the entire metro area.

Levi

December 10th, 2012
2:51 pm

What a waste of money and time. How about building something that we need? Or repairing some of the stuff in this city that was last repaired sometime around the Olympics being here in 1996. We just had a meeting at my office last week with consultants saying that Atlanta is in decline and that Corporations are NOT moving headquarters here anymore. Atlanta is among the worst run cities in the country and the smart and the rich already know this. MIght be time to CONSIDER the future of the whole city not just one rich man who has most of the politicians on his dole. In a month it will be even more ridiculous when the Falcons don’t make it past the first round AGAIN.

tiffneck

December 10th, 2012
2:51 pm

What a waste of money.

bill

December 10th, 2012
2:51 pm

If they build a new stadium is Ray Lewis going to come to the Super Bowl and kill some more locals like last time?