After the Georgia World Congress Center Authority approved the outline for a new $1 billion downtown stadium for the Falcons on Monday morning, word spread quickly to Athens, where state legislators are holding their biennial summit. The AJC’s Greg Bluestein was on the scene and he described the reaction as “cool but not icy” as he surveyed lawmakers, who would need to vote to approve raising the GWCCA’s debt limit. From Bluestein:
House Speaker David Ralston said the stadium’s supporters need to make a forceful argument about why the new facility is needed – and he doesn’t think they’ve made that argument quite yet.
“This is more than about the Falcons. And because of that, we have to proceed very carefully,” Ralston said. “It’s a tough economic climate and for the state to undertake any sort of investment, I think we have to move cautiously.”
State Rep. Ed Lindsey, an Atlanta Republican and one of the House’s leading lawmakers, said he has to be convinced the stadium meets the Congress Center’s economic development mission and he needs a commitment that the state won’t be on the hook to repay any bonds that fund the project.“In terms of infrastructure improvements, a lot of other projects are ahead of a football stadium,” he said.
State Rep. Harry Geisinger, a Roswell Republican, said he would likely be voting in favor of the project based on its economic development potential.
“When you look at all the facets of the issue and realize that most of it will be paid for by Arthur Blank – and in the end we [the state] will own the stadium – it’s a good deal and it will bring a tremendous amount of tourism to Georgia,” he said.
“Some are taking a kneejerk position asking what the government is doing,” he said. “But what the government is doing is providing jobs and revenues.”
Democratic leaders, meanwhile, suggested they were equally cautious about throwing their support behind the deal – at least for now.
“This investment is a very large economic responsibility for the citizens to take on,” said House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams. “I’m currently agnostic about it. But we have a lot of critical issues to take on this year and we need better information to make sure we understand the proposal.”
One lawmaker who has long since made up his mind is state Sen. Vincent Fort, an Atlanta Democrat who is one of the most outspoken critics of the new stadium proposal. He worries that the state could be on the hook for costly off-site infrastructure improvements, and fears that the process hasn’t been transparent enough.
“I think it’s a problem that all this is behind closed-doors,” said Fort, whose district includes parts of downtown Atlanta. “I’m just burned up that the public and the media have been excluded from the conversation.”
Taxpayers are expected to pony up $300 million for the project, but as today’s AJC piece notes, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has said there could be another $200 million worth of infrastructure improvements in the area.
Count Zell Miller among the new stadium’s supporters. In a Marietta Daily Journal op-ed, the former governor and U.S. Senator calls it a good deal for Georgia.
Based on the Georgia Dome’s track record, the return on the state’s investment in a new stadium will be more than significant.
There is no doubt the Georgia Dome has proved its worth. Our focus now is on whether we will continue to be recognized as the sports capital of the South and a premier tourist destination. Is it worth a $300 million investment for a $1 billion dollar asset that will be owned by the state and publically funded by a hotel-motel tax that is paid for by tourists, not residents?
I say “yes.” The time has come to cast an eye to the future. This is a great deal for all of Georgia, and we can’t afford to pass it up.
Want to have lunch with state Sens. Jeff Mullis and Judson Hill? It will only set you back $1,000. The AJC’s transportation guru Ariel Hart obtained an email invitation to the fundraiser for the Transportation Committee chair and Senate Caucus vice chairman, to be held Thursday at The Blue Ridge Grill.
Proceeds from the “Private Lunch Transportation Roundtable” less than a month before the session begins go to Hill’s campaign. Is this a sign of Mullis making moves now that his friend Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle is back in power?
(Updated 9:47 a.m. — previous version incorrectly stated which campaign got proceeds.)
Monday’s Tom Price for Speaker rumors caused quite a stir around the Georgia and national media and blogs. A Price spokeswoman sort-of shot it down by saying Price “is not running for Speaker.” As NRO’s Robert Costa points out, he did not write that Price was running in the present tense, but could run in the future. As for Costa’s contention that leadership is worried, two separate top leadership aides told me Monday that they are not concerned about Price. Take from that what you will.
House Speaker John Boehner showed his strength last month when the candidates he was backing won the conference chairman post (beating Price), and the conservative Republican Study Committee chair (beating Rep. Tom Graves of Ranger). For that support to collapse, Boehner would have to seriously anger the right. Cue Dave Weigel from Slate:
Boehner can engender that anger with either 1) a bad deal or 2) an early deal, which looks bad, because more could have been negotiated with more time.
So we’re all here until New Year’s Eve. Yippee.
- By Daniel Malloy, Political Insider