Opponents of DeKalb’s Atlanta United soccer deal speak out

Residents opposed to Atlanta United's planned soccer stadium and practice fields said the team's deal with DeKalb County is a waste of taxpayer money, and they called on the government to deliver regular reports about its cost.

They were able to make public comments about the project to the DeKalb Commission for the first time Tuesday, one week after the deal was already sealed. Last week, the commission didn’t allow public comments before taking a 4-3 vote to move forward with the agreement.

Some of those who spoke said the county’s $12 million incentive package in the project is too expensive. They doubted that the team’s $35 million investment will spur economic development in the area near Interstate 285 and Memorial Drive.

“This is the worst proposal I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Martha Gross of North Druid Hills, who worries that environmental remediation may drive up the project’s cost.

Another resident, Harmel Codi of Ellenwood, said the deal with the Arthur Blank-owned soccer team was rushed and done without involving the public.

“Your style of governing trampled over the democratic process,” she said. “We are against this backdoor deal.”

The DeKalb Commission didn’t take any further action on it Tuesday.

Surrounded by about 30 residents, the three commissioners who voted against the agreement later read an open letter that asks for a monthly accounting of expenses, including site preparation, facilities relocation, environmental mitigation, employment data, contracts and more.

“It would be successful if it came in at a lower cost than expected and if there were widespread economic impacts from the project,” said Commissioner Jeff Rader.

A spokesman for Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May said the request for financial reports sounded reasonable, and it’s something the administration can work toward.

“It’s already a win-win. We believe this is going to be the start of something wonderful around Memorial Drive,” said spokesman Burke Brennan.

One resident, Elesia Allen of Lithonia, supported the soccer fields, saying they would help bring economic growth to an underdeveloped area.

“I just want to say thank you for the vote for the soccer field,” Allen said. “Stop revisiting things that have already been passed.”

The agreement calls for the county to spend $7 million for use of office space and about $5 million for demolition and clearing land. Atlanta United will also be able to use the 41 acres of government land without paying property taxes.

In exchange, Atlanta United will build a 3,500-person stadium, three practice fields and a corporate headquarters. The land and facilities revert to the county’s control after 30 years. A second phase of construction may include an indoor training facility and several more field.