Reed: work around new Falcons stadium could boost cost to $1.2 billion

Needed improvements around the site of a new Atlanta Falcons stadium could push the total project cost to $1.2 billion, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said Monday.

Reed did not say the cost of the stadium itself would rise above an architect’s estimate of $948 million — money to be raised by the state and the Falcons. But Reed said a variety of upgrades to sidewalks, roads and other amenities could boost the project price to the larger total.

Reed, who backs the project, also indicated he would be willing to commit some city money to the surrounding improvements - possibly by funding some through an already planned bond issue for road, sidewalk and other work around the city. Atlanta also has $53 million in cash available for economic development projects in the Westside tax allocation district, which includes the stadium district.

He said he is confident that a new stadium to replace the 20-year-old Georgia Dome will be built. The Falcons and the state-run Georgia World Congress Center are in talks aimed at a deal by year’s end. The Falcons hope for a new home by the 2017 season.

“We believe the effort to build a new stadium will be successful,” Reed said in an interview covering several topics after a meeting of the Atlanta Committee for Progress, a business group.

The city is not a party to the negotiations between the Falcons and the Georgia World Congress Center Authority or GWCCA, which began more than 18 months ago. The current plan is to build a retractable-roof football stadium, but a decision on a location has not been announced and a final design has not been commissioned.

The idea of using some public money to build the new stadium has already generated opposition. The GWCCA, a state agency, has said repeatedly that about $300 million of the stadium cost would come from bonds backed by revenues from Atlanta’s hotel-motel tax and that the Falcons would be responsible for the rest.

The state legislature in 2010 overwhelmingly approved an extension of the hotel-motel levy.

But Rep. Mike Dudgeon, R-Johns Creek, said he is considering a bill this winter to halt state support for the project, including blocking efforts to raise the GWCCA’s borrowing ceiling, now $200 million. That could prevent the GWCCA from raising the money for its part of the deal through the bond market.

“The stadium just doesn’t make the cut for all the things we’re asking for money on,” Dudgeon said Monday. “For as tight a budget as we have…it shouldn’t be the priority of the state.”

In a poll commissioned by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in July, 67 percent of respondents said they oppose using hotel-motel tax money for a new stadium.

A study commissioned by the GWCCA in March put the cost of building a retractable-roof stadium on the GWCC marshaling yard about a half-mile north of the Georgia Dome at $947.7 million. Kansas City-based architecture firm Populous did the study.

A more recent analysis of the proposed deal, conducted by California-based consultant Barrett Sports Group and presented to the GWCCA in late August, cited a $1.032 billion figure for building a stadium on a site just south of the Georgia Dome.

The bump in cost came from an added $60.1 million for “site budget” and $24.2 million for land acquisition.

The GWCCA and the Falcons recently have focused their efforts on the south site, near Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Northside Drive. The northern site is at Northside Drive and Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard.

The Barrett analysis submitted last month cited $331.5 million in public funding — $277.3 million from hotel-motel tax net bond proceeds, $24.2 million from the state for land and $30 million from a construction sales tax rebate. The analysis assumed a $700.5 million contribution from the Falcons and the NFL.

The document was obtained by the AJC under Georgia’s open records act.

Reed didn’t specify how the figure grows to $1.2 billion, but his advisors said he was referring to improvements to the area surrounding whatever site is selected.

At the northern site, for example, roads around the truck lot were not designed for football traffic, according to state transportation officials. Utilities would have to be moved or upgraded.

Reed said he wants the city to launch a $250 million bond offering to pay for bridges, roads and sidewalks around the city. Some of that spending could be in the vicinity of the stadium.

“We’re focused like a laser on making sure that spending goes right,” Reed said.

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Staff writer Leon Stafford contributed to this article.