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Atlanta City Council votes yes for new Falcons stadium

It wasn’t really close.

The Atlanta City Council voted 11-4 Monday evening in favor of a financing plan to build a new stadium in downtown Atlanta.

All that is left now is for Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development agency, to approve. The board of Invest Atlanta would issue the bonds to fund the public portion of construction. The board has a meeting today, but will not vote on the stadium plan.

“We’re obviously pleased. We’re not going to jump up and down and go crazy because we realize we’ve still got another vote,” Falcons president Rich McKay said.

The council approved the use of the city hotel-motel taxes to pay $200 million toward construction costs and potentially several times that toward costs of financing, maintaining and operating the stadium through 2050.

“The agreement we negotiated is one of the best (stadium deals) in America,” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said after the council vote.

The Falcons hope to start playing in the new venue by 2017. The Georgia Dome will be demolished once the new stadium is built. By August, the city and the Georgia World Congress Center Authority will try to work out a deal to buy two churches on the preferred site immediately south of the Dome.

GWCCA officials voted Friday to move forward with a plan to build the downtown Atlanta stadium.

“We’re going to build a terrific stadium,” Reed added. “… We have kept our team in downtown Atlanta. It’s a very big deal. Every major American city whose team moved to the suburbs took a significant financial hit. … We did the right thing today.”

The agency's board of governors voted unanimously to enter into an agreement with the City of Atlanta and the Atlanta Falcons to build the new retractable roof stadium.

Reed and Falcons owner Arthur Blank this month agreed to financing terms of the project, which would replace the 20-year-old Georgia Dome.

 “We are grateful for the Council’s vote of support today,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said in a statement. “The city of Atlanta and state of Georgia have a history of building strong public-private partnerships in areas that contribute to economic development. This project is no exception.”

Before the final vote, the city council amended the deal to stipulate that no city general-fund dollars will be used on the project, including for related infrastructure costs; that Invest Atlanta will facilitate adoption of a community benefits plan before issuing bonds; and that the Falcons will increase their commitment to off-site roadwork and related costs from a maximum of $50 million to $70 million if needed.

But Felicia Moore, chairwoman of the council’s finance-executive committee, strongly objected to voting so soon.

“This is unprecedented,” said Moore, one of the four to vote against the deal. “… We are voting about something that will impact this city for 50 years or more. We need to take our time and make sure all our i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.”

Councilwoman Keisha Bottoms responded that although the legislation came to council members just last week, the major points in the deal have been known much longer. “I am comfortable with the information I have received,” she said.

About half of the 45 members of the public that spoke before the vote were not in favor of the new stadium.

“We have 150 years of the business community running this city,” said Steve Carr, who has lived in Atlanta for 30 years. “They displaced people to build Turner Field. They displaced people to build the Atlanta Civic Center. And they displaced people to build the Dome, which is already serviceable. This city has a long history of being unfair.”

But Dan Young, an Atlanta resident since 1972 and a former public administration professor, urged the council to vote yes.

“The financial structure they put in place is fair,” Young said, “and I don’t think it overburdens the taxpayer.”

The stadium deal calls for 39.3 percent of Atlanta’s seven-cents-per-dollar hotel-motel tax collections to go into the stadium project through 2050 — the same percentage that currently goes into the Georgia Dome. After covering annual debt payments on the construction bonds, all money remaining from the 39.3-percent portion of the hotel-motel tax would be used toward stadium operating and maintenance expenses.

The stadium is expected to cost about $1 billion to build. The Falcons, the NFL and personal seat license sales would pay for about $800 million of the construction cost.

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