The long-gone debate over public financing for a new Falcons stadium

Take this date and put it in your pocket: April 14, 2010.

A new study has raised the extreme possibility that the Atlanta Falcons, within a few years, will be scrimmaging in a new, $1 billion stadium with a retractable roof.

Roughly a third of the cost — $300 million is the figure in current usage — is likely to be borne by those who check into Fulton County hotels and motels, via a 7 percent surcharge on their room bills. The 20-year-old Georgia Dome, also built with a flow of taxpayer cash, would be demolished.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank and a state agency, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, are negotiating $650 million or so in details.

The news threatens to spark a debate over the public financing of athletic venues. Let the private sector finance itself, cry the tea partyers. Democrats wonder out loud whether millions for a billionaire owner might be better spent on education.

Reliant Stadium, home of the Houston Texans, with its roof closed. Built in 2002, the retractable roof stadium was the first of its kind for an NFL team. AP/David J. Phillip

Reliant Stadium, home of the Houston Texans, with its roof closed. Built in 2002, the retractable roof stadium was the first of its kind for an NFL team. AP/David J. Phillip

Don’t let them fool you. Both sides are two years too late. That date in your pocket? Pull it out. That’s when the debate over a new, publicly funded stadium for the Falcons ended. This is a perpendicular fact.

Democrats fully supported the spending. Most Republicans, if they did not agree with it, turned a convenient blind eye.

On April 14, 2010, the GOP-controlled House – with near unanimous support from the minority party — gave final, overwhelming approval to HB 903, a bill to permit the extension of the existing hotel/motel tax in Fulton County until the year 2050.

A Republican-controlled Senate had bestowed its similar, oversized blessing one day earlier. A Republican governor, Sonny Perdue, signed HB 903 into law.

While the measure was not widely advertised, no secrecy was involved. Weeks before the bill was sent to the governor, Frank Poe, the new head of the Georgia World Congress Center, publicly praised the Legislature for its actions to keep the Falcons in downtown Atlanta. “It exhibits that there is a political will,” Poe said.

And yet, the next Falcons stadium will be so pristine that there won’t be a single GOP fingerprint on it. Not one that matters, anyway.

HB 903 was carried by state Rep. Mark Burkhalter, a Republican from north Fulton County, who – only a few months earlier – had been a finalist for GWCC job. He would not run for re-election.

The Dome operation is “a moneymaker for this state,” Burkhalter said. “We ought to be helping our economic engines like that.”

In the House, HB 903 passed on a vote of 127 to 18. Twenty-eight lawmakers managed not to vote – though only 11 had formal excuses. Most of the absentees were Republican.

Among those who didn’t cast a vote: House Speaker David Ralston – although this is not unusual. The speaker casts a vote only in event of a tie. Still, this allowed a spokesman for Ralston, last week, to declare – without contradiction — that the speaker “remains cool to the idea of asking more from Georgia’s taxpayers to build a new stadium.”

In the Senate, eight of 54 lawmakers were excused or otherwise declined to vote on HB 903. Majority Leader Chip Rogers of Woodstock, an active tea partyer, was among the excused.

Once the bill passed, the matter of a new Falcons stadium was placed squarely – and solely – in the hands of 15 members of the Georgia World Congress Center Authority. All are gubernatorial appointees.

We have the example of the board that governs the Georgia Lottery Corporation, which the governor also controls through appointments. Legally, that body has the power to approve lottery-fueled casinos in Georgia. But its members say they will defer to Gov. Nathan Deal on any expansion of gambling in the state.

Don’t expect this to happen with the Falcons stadium. First, the GWCC is unlikely to pass such a hot potato to the governor — that would be an act of hostility. Secondly, Deal could easily sidestep the controversy by saying this was a matter of policy settled by his predecessor. He has not done so – and a spokesman for Deal declined to make any comment on the stadium last week.

In any case, look for those negotiations between Blank and the GWCC to finish well before January, when the General Assembly next convenes.

Last March, at the tail end of the legislative session, state Rep. Mike Dudgeon of Suwanee – note the hometown – and several other lawmakers introduced HR 1871, a non-binding measure intended as a statement of disapproval of public financing for a new Falcons stadium.

Most of those who signed onto the measure were, like Dudgeon, freshmen who had no part in the 2010 debate. “I just have a real hard time saying that’s the best use of taxpayer money,” he said.

Will he try to make any trouble next year? “We’ll have to see how the deal works out. It’s not the exact plan to make trouble,” Dudgeon said. “It’s to get on the record that we don’t like it – recognizing that the train is out of the station, so to speak.”

We leave you with one last bit of irony. Legislative approval of funding for a new Falcons stadium appeared in the April 15, 2010 edition of the newspaper. But as I recall, it failed to make the list of spending outrages condemned at that day’s rally of 3,000 tea partyers gathered around the Capitol.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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54 comments Add your comment

Don Abernethy

April 27th, 2012
8:29 pm

Tax payers rarely get anything anymore that is in their favor. Government votes the way it wants to and is not concerned about what the taxpayer thinks. They know voters are rarely informed and never punish anyone in office. They tend to vote the same way year after year no matter what is at stake. A good example will be in the 2012 elections. Most of the voters who will vote for Obama can barely spell cat and know nothing about what he has done these past four years. But they will vote for him even if it means disaster for our country.

ld

April 27th, 2012
8:33 pm

The absentees were paying more attention to their re-election chances than to their responsibilities to Georgia taxpayers. Those that voted and passed the buck are almost as cowardly. Throw all the bums out.

ld

April 27th, 2012
8:35 pm

Don: In November voters will have a presidential “choice” between bad and worse–which is which will likely depend on the voter’s individual finances except for those one issue “values voters” that go to the polls in a religious stupor.

Centrist

April 27th, 2012
8:44 pm

ALL governments want more taxes and spending. The only debate is how much more of each.

The GA 400 never ending tolls (despite the ignored planned end), SPLOST votes on top of local option sales taxes, reneging and putting caps on exemptions for Social Security, pensions, and IRA’s, new car title fees are examples.

honested

April 27th, 2012
8:48 pm

If the football team wants to build a new stadium, they should find a piece of private property, meet all the appropriate planning and zoning, raise the money from people who want to pay for it, gain local approval and build it.

Not a penny of public revenue needs to be spent on such a fools errand again in this metropolitan area.

Jimbob

April 27th, 2012
8:59 pm

Simply, what joke. Falcons, Delta is ready when you are.

joni

April 27th, 2012
9:18 pm

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

deegee

April 27th, 2012
9:32 pm

It’s hard to imagine that the Roman Colloseum has been around since the first century AD but we can’t hold on to anything longer than 20 years. Probably a good thing. The GA Dome is just plain tacky.

td

April 27th, 2012
9:33 pm

More lib whining. Football is second most important thing in Georgia next to God. Atlanta will always have a football team and the taxpayers will foot the bill to build the best and state of the art facility to have a football team. The stadium will pay for itself in increased revenue for the city and state many times over in name recognition and bringing other events to the city (SEC championship game, basketball tournaments, concerts ect). Those are the facts and you libs just have to find some different fund sources to leech off of.

Jason

April 27th, 2012
10:09 pm

Right now the BCS conferences are working out the details of a college football playoff system. If Blank wants to get the public behind this new stadium then he needs to get involved with the college side of things. Right now college football games are to the Falcons organization just another stadium event, no different than a monster truck rally.

Get a contract to have the college football championship game played at the new stadium, in walking distance of the college football hall of fame. This is the type of thing the public of the state wants. While not hated, the Falcons also aren’t beloved by Georgia. They’re not the Braves, they’re barely the Hawks in terms of popularity. College football on the other hand is practically a religion here. Take a look outside of the NFL owners clubhouse and see what the citizens of this state are passonate about…. hint: it isn’t the Atlanta Falcons.

The chance to part of the new playoff system only comes around once. The BCS conferences are open to it side stepping the existing bowls. Will Blank and the GWCC jump on it or are they too self aborbed in the NFL world to notice anything else exists?

BW

April 27th, 2012
11:13 pm

This is the entire point…I’m not sure why people were crying over Jay’s blog….this matter has been long settled. Taxpayer revenues will help fund a new stadium and the taxpayers will like it. Such is life.

BW

April 27th, 2012
11:14 pm

td

Libs were not the whiners. Everything cannot be boiled down to “Libs….blah blah blah”

SKE

April 28th, 2012
12:30 am

Taxpayers are the cash cow for billionaires! Building a new stadium to keep up with the Cowboys’ stadium. Give me a break! The Falcons will win a Superbowl eventually. We don’t (taxpayers) have to build a new stadium for them to do it.

Lawmakers lie so much and trash each other; no wonder every four years we’ll have some millionaire thinking he/she has a better plan to spend taxpayer money.

Chip

April 28th, 2012
12:55 am

Mark Burkhalter is a total sleeze. He could not take the job of Speaker due to his many secrets. He wants a stadium to enhance his Olympic Park property. The guy is all about screwing taxpayers to enrich himself.

Phil

April 28th, 2012
1:07 am

New falcons stadium? Thats neat. They could move it to Hawaii for all I care. As long as the SEC has a place to play its championship in atlanta and my bulldawgs have a shot to play there every December I’m happy. Because out of every major sports team in Georgia, the falcons are about as disappointing and irrelevant as they come. Even a pitiful UGA football team made it to the SEC title game this past year, and even then I’d be willing to bet they were more followed by Georgians.

Not that I usually care what activities our idiot lawmakers are thinking up out of boredom, but why is a new stadium necessary? Other than some whiners in the world congress center and the 19 falcons fans in the state who honestly cares? I don’t even know why I wasted time reading about this.

Bob Loblaw

April 28th, 2012
2:31 am

I want a retractable roof!

Road Scholar

April 28th, 2012
5:36 am

What affect will this, if it goes forward, have on ticket prices? They are already outrageous!

Jezel

April 28th, 2012
6:10 am

We need to spend tax money on things that will bring business and opportunity to Ga. for years to come…not for a weekend or a season. Things like education and public transportation,

Maybe someone has the figures on the revenue a NEW stadium MIGHT bring in…but right now.. I just do not see it.

Hazel Dukes

April 28th, 2012
6:48 am

You know, this would never happen if the GOP controlled some parts of the Georgia government. Even if it was only one part, like the House or the Governor’s office, they would stop these Democrats from taking our tax dollars and spending it on stuff for their friends. The GOP always protects the people from the government.

At least, that’s what I heard on the radio.

jd

April 28th, 2012
6:51 am

Maybe Delta can use some of their Georgia tax credit to fly the Falcons to St. Paul, MN for the winter!

NorthFultonInsider

April 28th, 2012
6:54 am

Chip, you are correct about Mark Burkhalter. He is a sleaze to the core. His secrets are what kept him from keeping Speaker’s gavel and the GWCC job.

jd

April 28th, 2012
6:54 am

I agree with TD – but must correct the order — Hating Obama is first, football second, NASCAR 3rd and God comes in 4th IF there is no opportunity to say “libs are pansys”

DeborahinAthens

April 28th, 2012
7:08 am

I don’t think taxes of any sort should be used to pay for a football stadium. But let’s look at the reasoning behind this. If I’m making a mis-statement, I apologize. Blank says we need an open air stadium, so that we can get a Super Bowl here. Does this make sense? As I recall the last Super Bowl we had was pretty awful because the weather was terrible. Don’t the powers that be like to have Super Bowls in warm places so an unexpected ice storm doesn’t mess up the travel plans? The usual attendees to Falcon’s games are lukewarm at best. I don’t see them coming to a game if it’s nasty outside unless there is a retractable roof. Blank’s arguments for a super duper new stadium boils down to more and more luxurious sky boxes so the wealthy can enjoy their catered eats and drinks away from the hoi poloi. The irony is that, since an average family can no longer afford to attend a football game, they really don’t have to worry.

Bennie

April 28th, 2012
7:12 am

Let me see, al lthe local democrats pushed this project. If the south GA legislators had opposed a local hotel/motel tax to fund the stadium, they would have been accused of being racist hatemongers. So they turned a blind eye to what Fulton County wanted to do and they are acused again.
I think Mr. Blank ought to build his own stadium. Atlanta is going to be the ones driving this train to fund a new dome for the Falcons. Personally, I think it’s lunacy.

Davis

April 28th, 2012
7:47 am

Privatized profits. Socialized losses. Great gig if you can get it.

Jimmy

April 28th, 2012
8:06 am

As long as they don’t make concession prices too high I’m OK with it. You got to admit, a retractable roof would be sweet. Also, the tax money being used isn’t really coming from Atlantans. It’s all the foreigners using our hotels that are contributing to this funding. Typical AJC distorts the picture that it’s not really Atlanta taxpayers paying for this!

junbug

April 28th, 2012
9:24 am

They could not afford the millions a year in salaries for players with a college education who cannot speak in a complete sentence during an interview if they did not stiff the tax payer.

Attack Dog

April 28th, 2012
9:54 am

1. Dixiecrats were against building Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, but Liberals, by todays standards like, Mills B. Lane and Ivan Allen made it work. 2. Dixiecrats, rural ones in particular, were against the Omni, Phillips Arena, the Georgia Dome, MARTA, and even the High Museum, but the Liberals have historically kept Atlanta in the current century. 4. Delta has always been the official airline of the Atlanta Falcons. 5. Most Georgia taxpayers living outside Fulton County don’t pay the hotel/motel tax because the either drive to the games, stay at motels or the a few hotels in their area. The rest of the Dixiecrats watch on TV or go to the County High games because they can’t afford or have access to the Falcons, or even Bulldog or Yellow Jacket tickets. 6. The Falcons have the most diverse ticket fan base in the NFL, and Dixiecrats can’t stand it. 7. Finally, a Dixiecrat having someone writing for them, that “Liberals can’t read” is really the joke of the day. Have a great day Y’all.

Attack Dog

April 28th, 2012
10:00 am

Can’t pass this up. Dixiecrats are fighting for making tax cuts permanent for “the players with a college education who cannot speak in a complete sentence during an interview.” Those players, and moreso the owners, are not “stiffing the taxpayer,” those are self-inflicted wounds!

double

April 28th, 2012
10:01 am

Stadiums should be built by investors,but the pugs would not like this.They want ways for lobbyist to pay under the table to the fatcats/pugs.A city deserves no better stadiums than the performers.Unless the President The Hon.President Obama is to visit,then it should be goldplated 24k.

Banker Bob

April 28th, 2012
10:43 am

Now we have another reason for North Fulton to become Milton County. Someone staying in an Alpharetta hotel now has to pay 7% more to fund a downtown football stadium? They should put the thing in Gwinnett closer to Falcon facilities anyway. We can see what the GA Dome has done to ‘re-vitalize’ the downtown area – nothing. In fact, one side of the GA Dome is one of the worst areas in town.

DannyX

April 28th, 2012
11:09 am

“Now we have another reason for North Fulton to become Milton County.”

I guess Milton County will have to secede from the state, the tax is a product of state Republicans.

The $100 a year the Milton portion will produce won’t amount to much anyway. Might pay for one of the new cup holders, whoopee.

Julia

April 28th, 2012
11:11 am

If the Falcons want a new stadium, let them pay for the stupid thing. I’m sick of every few years these prima dona team owners want a new, bigger stadium as yet another homage to their egos. We are laying off teachers, police & firemen are over worked and under paid, yet what do the idiots of this town do? build a new stadium.

Morons. over paid illiterate thugs. Ego driven billionaires. You all deserve one another, leave me AND my money out of your idiocy.

Buckhead Boy

April 28th, 2012
11:48 am

Don Abernethy, after watching the ignorance displayed in your recent Republican primaries and caucuses, not to mention that of your former Vice-Presidential candidate, I have to assume that your characterization of Obama supporters as barely capable of spelling “cat” is intended as an expression of admiration.

P.S. We already had the disasters. They were called Iraq and the Great Recession. Both are over now.

Rafe Hollister

April 28th, 2012
12:32 pm

There was an article yesterday at Yahoo.com regarding the stadium boondoggles that still exist, despite the Obama economy. The Falcon stadium issue was front and center.

The point of the article is that there is absolutely no justification for these excesses. The proponents claim that new stadiums bring revenue. Studies show just the opposite. After the initial boom from the construction jobs, the increased attendance, and the inevitable Super Bowl, the money coming into the local economy stops and the outgo begins. Upkeep and infrastructure construction and upkeep overwhelm the initial boost to the economy. The government loses long term and the Team owners reap the rewards for a few years. After a short time the process starts over as the Team threatens to leave the area unless a new stadium is built. The politicians and public fall for it every time.

Rafe Hollister

April 28th, 2012
12:37 pm

Link to article mentioned above. Should be required reading for those “on the fence” about this boondoggle.

http://news.yahoo.com/tough-times-stadium-gravy-train-rolls-011719210–spt.html

Shine

April 28th, 2012
1:11 pm

No matter the path, its the Republicans who are in charge of this state. If they screw taxpayers with this pandering to a billionaire while eductaion, roads, etc does without funding, it will be rightly tied around their necks as an anchor come election day.

Let Arthur Blank buy his own s#$%.

Will in Roswell

April 28th, 2012
2:26 pm

Let’s see. Blank wants his new stadium so he can have more pricey sky boxes. The Fulton county powers want the Falcons to stay in Atlanta. The “fans” do not want higher ticket prices. Level headed folks don’t care. Mmmmm. Eureka! Keep the hotel/motel tax, send it straight to Blank’s coffers, the Falcons stay in Atlanta, ticket prices stay the same, and – ta daaa – level headed folks don’ care.

Dandy Don Merry Dith

April 28th, 2012
2:30 pm

So Blank wants a new stadium? How about we build the stadium and WE keep the profits? We charge Blank a monthly “lease” amount and all the money from private sky boxes, etc. goes BACK into the Fulton County taxpayers pocket.

Build it Yourself Arthur

April 28th, 2012
2:41 pm

The gutless politicians should stop the 7% motel tax and Arthur is free to build any stadium he so chooses from his own pocket.

They tore down an open-air stadium, built a dome–now a dome is somehow old fashioned and they want to build an open air stadium.

Making taxpayers pay for another stadium so millionaires will have a nicer place to play makes no sense at anytime but especially now.

Attack Dog

April 28th, 2012
2:44 pm

Public sector employees are losing their jobs because Dixiecrats want billionaires and millionaires to continue having the tax cuts that have contributed mightly to the deficit and debt. On the other hand, building stadiums to host events do provide temporary, long term jobs, and localized revenue. Dixiecrats billionaires and upper millionaires can have luxury suites and executive box seats to look down on millionaires perform, while Dixiecrats continue to chase their tails.

Watkins

April 28th, 2012
2:50 pm

Who is running the numbers? Are hotels upset? Probably not. My guess is this project will return much more to the taxpayers than they pay in. …more than the horse stadium and go fish program.

Watkins

April 28th, 2012
2:55 pm

Count the jobs a stadium brings – in hotels, restaurants, aquarium, stores, concessions, museums. Think super bowl NCAA finals, the fixture NCAA football playoff, and the many support industries surrounding these. To the negativistic I say, “go fish”

Attack Dog

April 28th, 2012
4:35 pm

Dixiecrats pay the cable and see (maybe not watch) the ads, buy the paraphilia, drink the beer, have parties, bet, and go to the bars just to watch the games being played at the stadiums they didn’t want built, and subsidize the owners and players with tax cuts. Then the owners and players go out and buy things from companies, that get luxury tax breaks, that Dixiecrats will never be able to afford. Obama has left the building and Boehner is still crying.

DannyX

April 28th, 2012
4:53 pm

“Count the jobs a stadium brings – in hotels, restaurants, aquarium, stores, concessions, museums. Think super bowl NCAA finals, the fixture NCAA football playoff, and the many support industries surrounding these.”

Watkins, Atlanta already has all those things, without a new stadium. Next year the Dome will be hosting the NCAA Final 4 men’s basketball championship, SEC Football final, and Peach Bowl.

yuzeyurbrane

April 28th, 2012
7:48 pm

Republicans don’t want their fingerprints on it!! I’ll bet. This stadium goes squarely against their espoused principles. Teaparty, too. So do they have principles or are they simply corrupt hypocrits? This boondoggle for Artie Blank is something even I, a liberal, get nauseated about. At least I’m not a hypocrit. By the way, I think the article is incorrect about legal finality from extending authority for hotel-motel tax until 2050. Doesn’t mean a new stadium has to be built. Nor does it stop Deal and legislature from changing their positions. It is up to public to keep up the outrage. Also, Atty. Gen. Olens should be investigating and bringing charges for public corruption, if any. Same goes for US Attorney’s Office. This smells worse than Mayor Campbell or Atlanta Airport corruption scandals. At least merits a thorough investigation. We are not all just helpless victims.

Church of the painful Truth

April 28th, 2012
8:04 pm

After the new stadium is built and opened;I would like the AJC to do a follow up on how many legislators have Sky Boxes or given tickets on a regular basis.Please use the new open record act passed by our gold dome crew. Jim,do you hear me??? When the Ga.Dome was opened 20 years ago,you would not believe all the legislators and Gov. staff that attened the games free or had space in the sky boxes. If it gets to hard to find the infomation go through the GWCC as transaction shown as entertainment expense.The books are established like a business and not state goverment.Follow the money and you will find the PRIZE.

Progressive is Good

April 28th, 2012
9:17 pm

I am happy to see we will be getting a new retractable roof stadium that — for the most part — will not be paid for by the taxpayers of Georgia (I personally expect to make some contribution and will cheerfully do so) . . . it is good for our city, our state, and our economy . . . and will be a great source of pride for which Arthur Blank will pay the lion’s share. Why all the whining? If we don’t build it, we fall behind. Never underestimate the power of image . . . and this will certainly enhance ours. If it were left up to all the naysayers, we would likely still be driving on two-lane dirt roads.

Progressive is Good

April 28th, 2012
9:24 pm

@Banker Bob – methinks you never saw the area around the Georgia Dome 30 years ago . . . it has been enhanced considerably . . . from Centennial Park to the CNN Center, Philips Arena, to the Georgia Dome and the GWCC . . . the area beyond is slowly but surely being gentrified. Rome was not built in a day.

Lucy

April 28th, 2012
9:29 pm

The same reasons given for building a new stadium are the same ones given for building the Dome just a little more than 20 years ago.

The only thing a new one in the same spot will be accomplish will be to provide more private and expensive boxes for the ultra (compared to the regular fans) rich who will then use the cost to their tax writeoffs as “business expenses”.

The politicians will still get their free tickets, parking, and food.

It offers nothing to the other fans but higher taxes on their hotel bills and higher ticket and food prices, but then, they don’t really count.

If you remember, the Falcons needed a new stadium that they would not have to share with a baseball team. Next they needed a roofed stadium. Now they need a much more expensive stadium that can be open or roofed.

What will be their next need within the next 20 years?