Dozens of residents unhappy about plans for the future $1.2 billion Atlanta Falcons stadium pressed the Atlanta City Council to slow down the project Monday, with a newly formed coalition launching a long-shot effort for public officials to renegotiate the deal itself.
Atlantans for a Fair Deal, a group composed of people from Common Cause Georgia, neighborhood communities, religious leaders and the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots, are urging the City Council to rescind an agreement passed a year ago approving the use of bonds backed by $200 million in hotel-motel taxes for stadium construction.
Among the complaints, the group takes issue with the percentage of hotel-motel taxes going to the operations and maintenance of the stadium, which according to a few estimates ranges from $450 million to nearly $900 million over the course of 30 years.
“Let’s talk about what a raw deal this is. It is not too late,” said William Perry, head of Common Cause Georgia, speaking on behalf of the group at Monday’s council meeting. “This council can undo what you did and force a new negotiation so that we can all get a fair deal.”
It’s unclear what legal implications the council would face if it attempted to renegotiate the deal, a move that would almost certainly result in litigation. The city, state and Atlanta Falcons signed a memorandum of understanding last March. The football franchise and state officials declined comment Monday.
But the group’s call is the latest challenge to plans to tear down the Georgia Dome and build a retractable-roof stadium near downtown Atlanta. The Falcons team is already facing another potential delay as five residents of Vine City and English Avenue recently mounted a legal challenge to the use of millions in hotel-motel taxes for the project.
Perry, joined by other members of the coalition, was among dozens of residents Monday who also called on the Atlanta council to halt legislation giving city-owned land to the state for roadwork around the stadium.
Many residents are upset about plans to reroute Martin Luther King Jr. Drive around the future stadium, which is being built on the so-called “south site” near MLK and Northside Drives.
According to the latest plan unveiled by the Falcons and city officials — who have met weekly for months to hammer out potential new paths — the current straight shot from downtown to West End becomes more of a zig-zag.
The Rev. Yvette Massey, head of Central United Methodist Church, worries her church will be negatively impacted by the change if traffic worsens and congregants stay home to avoid the congestion. Central United is located on the southwest corner of MLK and Northside drives.
“These problems could possibly lead to the demise of our congregation, which we certainly do not wish to see,” said Massey, calling on city officials and Falcons leaders to find a way for MLK to continue in a straight path. “I believe there is always another option. And if there is, I ask that we would consider it.”
Despite residents’ pleas, the council passed the legislation giving six parcels to the state by a 10 to 1 vote, with one abstention. Leaders from the football franchise have said the abandonments must happen now so that the team can seek necessary permits for rerouting utility lines and stay on track for a 2017 opening.
The council also approved a pair of resolutions involving stadium plans. Councilman Andre Dickens introduced a paper urging officials with Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration and Falcons’ engineers to continue working on the MLK rerouting plan. Council members Yolanda Adrean and C.T. Martin also won their effort to create an oversight committee to monitor stadium progress.
The hubbub over the roadwork that’s already underway has inflamed lingering criticisms of the stadium plans. Some residents worry the rerouting will worsen traffic and hinder economic development. Others are concerned about how $30 million in community benefit funds for the stadium neighborhoods of Vine City, English Avenue and Castleberry Hill will be disbursed.
And groups like Atlantans for a Fair Deal are still focused on the deal itself. The coalition — which is expected to hold a press conference on the steps of City Hall at 11 a.m. Tuesday — is calling for the city to cap the amount of money that can go to the state for stadium operations and maintenance, among other changes to the agreement.