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Atlanta Falcons stadium debate continues at City Hall

Atlanta Falcons stadium debate continues at City Hall

Atlanta Falcons stadium debate continues at City Hall
Photo Credit: Brant Sanderlin, bsanderlin@ajc.com
Jerry Jackson, left, expresses his concerns about a new stadium to Rich McKay, president and CEO of the Atlanta Falcons following a work session of the Atlanta City Council on Feb. 20, 2013. Jackson is in favor of a new stadium, but doesn't feel the money from a hotel tax should be used to fund it before the city's water issues are addressed.

Atlanta Falcons stadium debate continues at City Hall

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.

Several members of the Atlanta City Council, which now holds the fate of a proposed $1 billion Falcons stadium in its hands, said Wednesday they want some projects and concessions included in the funding deal before they give their support.

In a three-hour work session at City Hall on Wednesday, several city lawmakers signaled they want the stadium project to help fund a batch of community needs, from new infrastructure to a beefed-up MARTA station.

Wednesday’s meeting was a sign of how complicated the process could get as the deliberations move into City Hall and run headlong into city politics.

At times, the session — scheduled so the City Council could question state officials and Falcons executives — detoured into local schools, MARTA ridership, tailgating, traffic, minority construction work, jobs and affordable housing.

City Councilman Ivory Lee Young Jr., who represents the stadium district, called for at least 30 percent participation by minority-owned firms in stadium contracts — a request that was echoed by other members of the council.

“We can’t undo history, but what we can do in a very deliberate way … is create balance and level that playing field,” Young said, adding that he wanted the project to use the city’s First Source jobs program, which is designed to help low-income workers or those without college degrees find jobs.

Rich McKay, president and chief executive of the Falcons, said there will be an “equal opportunity employment commitment” at every stage of the project. He said the team needs a better understanding of how the city’s programs work before making firm commitments.

“These types of programs are going to be as critical to us as they are to you,” McKay told the City Council. “We will make it a priority.”

In a public comment period after the work session, several residents said they wanted guarantees that a new stadium would bring jobs to the Vine City and English Avenue communities.

Brad Hubbert urged the City Council to get the Falcons to agree in writing to dedicate a portion of the construction budget to minority contractors.

“If you’re going to agree to build a stadium, you need something ironclad,” said Hubbert. “If we’re going to build a stadium, we need to make sure the economic benefits are there for all the citizens of Atlanta.”

Ernestine Faircloth said the city needs to beef up workforce training programs for residents of surrounding neighborhoods who seek to one day work at the complex.

“My concern here is that if we do not give them proper education and training, we are again leaving out those people in the neighborhood who could do the jobs,” she said.

The Georgia World Congress Center Authority, a state agency that owns the Georgia Dome, has been negotiating a stadium plan with the Falcons for the past two years.

The plan now under consideration is for the team and other private sources to ante up about $800 million and for Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development authority, to issue bonds for the remaining $200 million.

Those bonds would be backed by a local hotel-motel tax, with about 86 percent of that revenue coming from visitors from outside Georgia, according to city officials.

The next step is a board meeting of Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development agency, on Thursday morning. Officials are expected to discuss how the agency could issue bonds to pay for part of the stadium; the meeting may also touch on the allowed uses of the Atlanta hotel-motel tax.

Then at 6 p.m. on Feb. 27, a public input session is scheduled at City Hall.

“In the meantime, we are still waiting on a deal — waiting on some legislation, something we can react to,” said Felicia Moore, chair of the city council’s finance/executive committee. “But this has been good to help us get up to speed. So when we do see something, we don’t have to come in cold.”

Wednesday’s meeting followed a week of drama and a bit of public tension between two of the key players in the stadium drama.

Last week, McKay told the City Council that staying in downtown Atlanta has always been the preference of the team and owner Arthur Blank. But the team would have to consider moving to the suburbs if it didn’t get a new downtown stadium by 2017, McKay said.

Not a threat, McKay said at the time, just the reality of the football business.

Those comments didn’t sit well with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who has said that Atlanta runs the risk of losing the Falcons to Los Angeles if a new stadium is not built.

“I just didn’t think very much of the comments,” Reed said in a radio interview Friday. “I think that the city of Atlanta hasn’t been anything but absolutely supportive of the Falcons and the Falcons franchise, and I thought the comment was disappointing.”

McKay said in an interview Wednesday that he had “no problem” with the mayor’s pushback.

“I was concerned about the comment going in, and that’s why I wanted to give the (not-a-threat) caveat in advance,” McKay said. “Our focus should be on trying to make this deal work in the city of Atlanta.”

McKay also said he appreciated the range of topics broached at Wednesday’s meeting.

“I have no problems with the questions they may have and the emphasis they brought up today,” he said. “I think it’s absolutely appropriate.”

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.

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