Atlanta Falcons team owner Arthur Blank stands on the field before the first half of the NFC divisional playoff NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013, in Atlanta.
Photo: Associated Press / John Bazemore
Photo: Associated Press / John Bazemore

Falcons could be ready to pony up more funding for new stadium

The Atlanta Falcons have indicated they would be willing to kick in at least $100 million more for construction of a new stadium, a move that could help secure the public funding needed to finance the proposed $1 billion stadium, according to three people with knowledge of the negotiations.

The deal would call for the NFL franchise to fork over $800 million for a stadium, up from the $700 million originally planned, to help garner the support of state and city officials for the proposed retractable roof stadium, said the three, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

The deal also calls for the Falcons to fork over roughly $60 million to pay off much of the debt on the state-owned Georgia Dome, which would be demolished, according to two of the sources. The current debt on the dome is about $98 million. The city of Atlanta likely would issue the remaining $200 million bonds for the stadium, backed by the city’s hotel-motel tax, the two people said.

Such a move spares Georgia lawmakers a vote on the contentious issue.

The negotiations are still fluid, the three said, but they hope to soon announce a final agreement. Falcons executives declined comment.

Gov. Nathan Deal has pushed Falcons owner Arthur Blank to reduce his request for public bonds backed by Atlanta’s hotel-motel taxes from $300 million to $200 million. Blank is on the board of directors of Cox Enterprises, which owns the AJC. Deal said last week that the original number was a “little bit high” for his comfort.

“It’s still very uncertain economic times, but I think people can recognize the validity of what they’re advocating,” he said in that interview. “My concern is to save the taxpayers.”

In the meantime, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has been laying the groundwork for the city to shoulder some of the responsibility for making the stadium finances work.

Councilwoman Felicia Moore, who represents part of northwest Atlanta, plans to invite the Falcons, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority and the city’s economic development agency to a public committee meeting on Feb. 13.

“The Council will have a very clear role in this,” Moore told the AJC. “One of my major concerns is that this has been a behind-closed-doors, small-group deal. The public doesn’t have any clue what’s going on. There needs to be input from the public.”

Several city councilmembers signaled they were open to the idea of the city playing a more prominent role in the deal.

City Councilman Ivory Lee Young Jr., whose central Atlanta district includes the stadium, said he is in favor of a new stadium as long as it is part of a larger conversation about how to rejuvenate the surrounding neighborhoods. He said he would oppose any use of sales taxes and property taxes to pay for it.

“Our issues are far bigger than sticks and bricks,” Young said. “A billion-dollar conversation about the stadium is just a good opportunity for us to talk about how we’re going to mitigate the impacts on real people (and) about how Atlanta is going to make whole those neighborhoods on the Westside.”

City Councilman H. Lamar Willis, who met with Reed on Monday, said he is also leaning toward supporting the stadium.

“The city may very well be in a position where it needs to act” to help fund the stadium, Willis said Tuesday. “That’s a $1 billion infusion of construction jobs and professional services jobs that, frankly, benefit the city and the region in a way that otherwise will not happen.”

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