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Atlanta Sports City delays become issue in Stonecrest mayoral race

Jason Lary, then a candidate for Stonecrest mayor, speaks to the crowd at the unveiling of the Atlanta Sports City site on Feb. 22, 2017. HENRY TAYLOR / HENRY.TAYLOR@AJC.COM
Jason Lary, then a candidate for Stonecrest mayor, speaks to the crowd at the unveiling of the Atlanta Sports City site on Feb. 22, 2017. HENRY TAYLOR / HENRY.TAYLOR@AJC.COM

One month before he was elected mayor of Stonecrest, Jason Lary spoke at the unveiling of Atlanta Sports City touting its potential as the new city’s economic centerpiece.

He stayed loyal to the project even after missed deadlines and lack of progress turned others off. And now, with Atlanta Sports City possibly dead, Lary faces tough questions as he seeks another term in office.

Lary's two challengers have both highlighted their own criticisms about Atlanta Sports City as a contrast to the mayor's support. Atlanta Sports City's master developer, Vaughn Irons, spoke at Lary's re-election kickoff in December.

The planned $200 million complex featuring dozens of sports field on 200 acres surrounding the Mall at Stonecrest never got off the ground. The land now has new owners who have no ties to Atlanta Sports City.

Meanwhile, Irons’ company faces lawsuits from consultants who say they never got paid for work on Atlanta Sports City and and complaints from vendors who say they are out thousands of dollars waiting for the complex to open its doors.

Atlanta Sports City's apparent failure is mentioned most often on the campaign trail by Charles Hill Jr., who lost to Lary in 2017 and is now running for the office again.

During a forum at First Afrikan Church on Monday night, Hill said Atlanta Sports City's developers heralded the project without securing financing or having the title to the land where they wanted to build. People like Lary were too willing to back the project without asking questions, Hill said.

“We have to follow where the money is going and we have to do a better job of knowing who’s who and who is here to get paid,” he said.

Former Stonecrest City Councilwoman Diane Adoma is also running for mayor. She is a longtime critic of Lary and grew increasingly vocal about Atlanta Sports City as the project lagged.

Adoma said Monday night that she was often the sole "no" vote on the City Council because she questioned the mayor when others would not. She said the city should have focused more on crime prevention and public safety to help bring jobs to the area, as well as providing a trained workforce for companies already in operation.

Without directly addressing Atlanta Sports City’s failures, Lary defended his record as mayor by saying he has worked hard to bring jobs to Stonecrest and support businesses interested in growing in the city. He also said that there are dozens of residents serving on various advisory boards that ensure the government is operating efficiently and transparently.

“There are no hidden agendas,” Lary said.

Asked whether a new development proposed by businessman Lecester “Bill” Allen on the land previously slated for Atlanta Sports City had similar shortcomings, Lary said there is no comparison.

The Stonecrest Development Authority approved a $700 million revenue bond that does not leave the city on the hook if the project fails, the mayor said. He also said Allen has other developments that prove his ability to see projects through.

“All you have to do is go down Evans Mill Road look next to New Birth (church) and you will see the quality of work that man is capable of,” Lary said.

Hill said the projects do have similarities: Both are huge developments announced shortly before voters head to the polls to elect a mayor.

“This is the old south DeKalb two-step,” he said. “Every time an election comes up, folks make grand proclamations of what is coming to the area and nothing ever comes. What happened to Atlanta Sports City?”

Read more | New Stonecrest development places Atlanta Sports City's future in doubt  

Also | In Stonecrest's mayoral race, political rivalry comes to a head

Watch Monday night's Stonecrest mayoral forum: