DeKalb County would spend roughly $12 million and hand over 41 acres of government land as part of a proposed deal for Atlanta United FC to build a $30 million soccer complex near Interstate 285, according to details revealed Wednesday.
The team, owned by Arthur Blank, would build a 3,500-seat stadium, three outdoor practice fields and a two-story corporate headquarters on land behind the DeKalb jail near Memorial Drive, according to a pending memorandum of understanding with the county. Four additional fields and an indoor training facility could be built later. Ownership of the land and facilities would revert to the county after 30 years.
The DeKalb Commission is scheduled to vote on the incentive package Tuesday.
Of the $12 million the county would pay, an estimated $7 million goes to Blank so the county could locate its parks department in new offices in the stadium. Under the proposal, an estimated $5 million would be used for demolition and land preparation, including irrigation, sod installation and environmental remediation.
In addition, Blank won’t have to pay property taxes, and all permitting fees for the soccer complex would be waived. The county would pursue funding for a pedestrian walkway from the complex to the Kensington MARTA station.
“Our discussions have been positive and cooperative, and we are encouraged and excited by their interest to potentially become part of the future of ‘Downtown DeKalb’ and the revitalization of Memorial Drive,” said Burke Brennan, a spokesman for Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May. A spokeswoman for Blank issued a similar statement.
Blank would pay the county 15 percent of revenue for naming rights and branded events held at the complex.
The fields and the stadium could be used by the county when they’re not needed by Atlanta United, which begins its first Major League Soccer season in 2017.
Atlanta United will share space with the Atlanta Falcons for its games in a new downtown stadium, which is under construction. The team would use the stadium in DeKalb for practice and training.
About 83 people would work at the team’s on-site corporate headquarters in 2017, growing to about 123 people in 2018, the proposal says.
Commissioner Jeff Rader said he’s concerned that the project’s costs may exceed estimates. He said expenses could mount for land development, relocation of county public works employees and pedestrian improvements.
“I don’t know what the benefits for the county might be other than momentum of some sort,” Rader said. “This deal does not in any way rely upon increasing property values, which would be one of the only justifications for this type of investment.”
But Commissioner Stan Watson said the deal is worth it.
“It’s a private entity coming in, and it doesn’t cost the county much money,” he said. “It’s going to be good for us. Anything we can do to spur economic development is going to be good around 285.”
Commissioner Nancy Jester said she’d like to see an analysis of the project’s costs and benefits, but she doesn’t expect that information will be known before Tuesday’s vote.
“What’s the return on investment?” Jester asked. “What economic development is it going to be a catalyst for, and what do we think it’s going to look like? How would we know if it’s a good deal or not if not one has examined it at all?”
The DeKalb deal would be the third agreement to build a professional sports venue partially using public money. And a fourth is on deck — Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has pledged to use public money to renovate Philips Arena or build the Hawks a new home court.
Atlanta already has anted up for Blank’s new $1.4 billion downtown stadium, scheduled to be completed in 2017. Some $200 million from bonds backed by Atlanta hotel-motel tax revenue is going toward construction, with hundreds of millions more pledged for maintaining, operating and financing the stadium over 30 years. The exact amount of that contribution depends on collections.
To the north, Cobb County has pledged $368 million toward construction of the Braves new ballpark, plus another $35 million for 30 years of maintenance. SunTrust Park is also scheduled to open in 2017, and there are many infrastructure costs associated with that deal that aren’t part of the contract with the Braves.
Blank had flirted with the city of Marietta, considering city-owned land off Franklin Road for his soccer facility, before coming to terms with DeKalb officials.
It’s a good deal for the team, said J.C. Bradbury, a sports economist at Kennesaw State University.
“Now it makes sense why they’re not coming to Cobb County with that kind of deal,” he said.
Staff writer Dan Klepal contributed to this article.