The Falcons want a new stadium, even though the Georgia Dome seems just fine.
Photo: Jason Getz
Photo: Jason Getz

Roads will add to stadium price; unclear who’ll pay

As the Atlanta Falcons, the city and the state of Georgia work toward a deal to build a new downtown retractable-roof stadium by 2017, a key question has remained unanswered.

Who would pay for needed street and utility work around the proposed $1 billion facility? After all, roads and sidewalks would need to be improved or built, power lines moved and sewers expanded.

So far, no one has committed to paying what could be tens of millions in added costs.

Mayor Kasim Reed said the money is not going to come from the city’s general fund.

“We don’t know, but we’re not the ones who are responsible for paying for it,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s editorial board recently. “That will be determined by the final transaction, and we’re not going to be the ones to pay for it.”

That leaves the Falcons and the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, which owns the Georgia Dome and surrounding land. Neither has pledged to pay for infrastructure improvements, according to documents obtained by the newspaper through open records requests.

Unless the Falcons and state officials agree otherwise, “neither party will assume responsibility” for off-site infrastructure costs, according to a draft memorandum of understanding between the Falcons and state agency. The document, dated Jan. 25, stipulates that the state agency “may cooperate reasonably” with the Falcons in lining up other government funds.

Those costs could stretch into tens of millions of dollars, although making firm projections is difficult because a final site has not been official chosen and the stadium has not been designed.

“There will be some site-specific roadway and infrastructure adjustments required, as would be true for any major development or project in the city,” the city’s chief operating officer, Duriya Farooqui, said Friday. “The surrounding roadway infrastructure cost is expected to be well under 5 percent of construction cost in either case.”

Five percent of $1 billion is $50 million.

Construction costs would be borne mostly by the Falcons, with bonds backed by Atlanta’s hotel-motel tax covering about $200 million. The Falcons and Reed argue it’s a good deal for the city, as out-of-staters pay most of the tax and the deal would keep the team downtown.

Infrastructure costs would be extra, and critics say the lack of detail is a problem as backers try to sell the public on a new stadium.

“I was shocked to hear at this juncture that we don’t know as citizens of Atlanta how much (cost) we are going to incur,” State Sen. Vincent Fort told members of Atlanta’s City Council in a discussion of the stadium plan on Wednesday. “Not to have those numbers, it’s almost laughable. The openness and transparency for the citizens is just not there.”

In an interview last September, Reed said needed improvements around the a new stadium site — including sidewalks, roads and other amenities — could push the total project cost to $1.2 billion.

But Farooqui said Reed’s figure was an estimate of total costs after a complete design process — not a suggestion that infrastructure work could add $200 million to the pricetag.

Atlanta already has an estimated $922 million backlog of infrastructure work. Reed wants to offer bonds of at least $250 million to attack the backlog. Reed has said some of that money could go to sidewalk and road projects near the stadium that would have to be done anyway.

Meanwhile, residents of Vine City, English Avenue and Castleberry Hill, neighborhoods near the Dome, are compiling wish lists of desired projects. Those raise the potential for more added costs.

Those projects, ranging from walking paths to upgrades to Herndon Stadium at Morris Brown College, may not be directly tied to the stadium. But they are expected to be part of the stadium debate at City Hall in coming weeks, as Reed seeks City Council backing.

Reed said Atlanta has at least $53 million in cash available for economic development projects in the Westside tax allocation district, which includes the stadium district. City leaders are studying how the money from the Westside TAD could be used for community improvements.

Another public session is scheduled Wednesday at City Hall, with City Council members expected to question top officials from the Falcons and the GWCCA.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank is on the board of directors of Cox Enterprises, whose media holdings include The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In the past, various strategies have been used to pay for projects around new sport facilities. In 1996, a 3 percent car-rental tax was authorized by the Georgia Legislature; that money was used in part to repay bonds that funded a Philips Arena parking deck. The surplus generated by the tax was divided between College Park and Atlanta.

Ivory Lee Young Jr., who represents the stadium area on the City Council, argued this week that a new stadium should be treated as an engine to rehabilitate the area. For instance, he said a pedestrian promenade should connect Vine City to Centennial Olympic Park, less than a mile away.

Tony Torrence of the Community Improvement Association said the Vine City and English Avenue neighborhoods near the Dome need better sewers to protect from flooding.

“Dealing with our infrastructure could create a whole bunch of jobs,” he said.

Staff writers Leon Stafford and Tim Tucker contributed to this article.

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