The city of Atlanta’s economic development arm would get free seats at some events at a new downtown stadium for the Falcons, a provision in the proposed deal that drew questions Thursday as key votes loom on the plan.
“Is this even legal?” councilwoman Felicia Moore asked at a City Council discussion of the stadium plan. She said the city can’t require event tickets in contracts and Invest Atlanta, a quasi-government agency that promotes economic growth, shouldn’t be able to either. “If I can’t get tickets they shouldn’t be able to get tickets.”
Council members, who also voiced concern about the ultimate public cost of the project, could vote as soon as Monday on the stadium plan. The Georgia World Congress Center Authority board meets Friday to review and vote on various agreements needed to move the project along, including a crucial, long-in-the-works pact on details of a new stadium’s funding and operation.
Documents on the deal delivered to the City Council said Invest Atlanta would receive “premium seating and rights to certain events” for use in “its statutory economic development mission.” Details — how many, where and who gets them — are not spelled out.
Atlanta City Attorney Cathy Hampton said the language is still in draft form. To address the council’s concerns, she will seek the opinion of the city’s ethics department.
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The GWCCA has a similar arrangement for seat rights at the Dome and would continue it at the new stadium. Invest Atlanta does not currently have seat rights at the Dome. But as a party to the new stadium deal - it will issue construction bonds backed by hotel-motel taxes - the agency would get them.
“We believe that as GWCCA is a state-created agency with the authority to receive its current seating from the Falcons, Invest Atlanta [a separate legal entity from the City] should be treated in a similar fashion,” Hampton said.
Councilman Michael Julian Bond, a key player in stadium talks because he lives in the area, joined Moore in questioning the provision.
“It is my understanding, through their contract with Atlanta, (Invest Atlanta is) supposed to follow all of the laws of the city of Atlanta,” Bond said. “They are supposed to directly follow what we do here. Period, without exception.”
The council in 1997 banned city officials from receiving free sports and entertainment tickets as political perks. The ban also applied to the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority, which oversees Turner Field.
But council member C.T. Martin, who was also on the council in 1997, doesn’t have a problem with Invest Atlanta getting tickets if the process is “not abused.”
“People like to go to events like that,” Martin said. “If they are working on a deal, I don’t see anything wrong with it. All perks are not bad.”
Invest Atlanta’s proposed ticket deal was one of several contentious items discussed in a 5 1/2-hour work session, at which council members sifted through more than 100 draft pages of various agreements that would be part of a deal among the Atlanta Falcons, the city and the GWCCA.
At its regular meeting Monday the City Council will get its first opportunity to officially review legislation that would extend the hotel-motel tax that would provide public funding for the stadium. A vote could happen then or in later weeks, depending on how the measure is introduced.
Another issue that drew sharp comment: the amount of hotel-motel tax revenue that will go into the stadium project beyond the $200 million upfront cost for construction.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Thursday that principal and interest payments could total almost $450 million over 30 years and that, according to one projection, another $450 million could go to the stadium over the years for operations and expenses. All of the money would come from the 39.3 percent of Atlanta’s 7-cents-per-dollar hotel-motel tax that is mandated by state law to go to the stadium project.
In light of those numbers, council member Aaron Watson said he would no longer characterize the public contribution to the project as only the $200 million toward upfront construction.
“I, for one, haven’t heard much discussion of what the entire amount is going to be over the next 30 years,” Watson said. He added he “had taken some comfort” in the $200 million figure but “had been nervous the number was actually more.”
“I’m not going to say it’s misleading,” Watson said, “it just understates.”
Council member Yolanda Adrean, citing the newspaper article, said the council needs to examine maintenance costs of $1 billion stadiums.
Duriya Farooqui, the city’s chief operating officer, told council members that the formula for using hotel-motel tax on the new stadium would be “substantially unchanged” from the way it has worked at the Dome for the past 21 years. The difference in the new deal, she said, is that the Falcons rather than the state are responsible for expenses that exceed available hotel-motel tax funds.
Some council members also worried that the cost of road, sewer and utility work around the site could exceed the $50 million the Falcons have pledged to pay. The city and the Falcons say they don’t expect that to happen and haven’t proposed a contingency plan.
“What I don’t want to do is … vote for this (deal) and then six months later somebody comes with their hand out asking for millions of more dollars for infrastructure,” Moore said.
The documents given to the council show the Falcons have also agreed to pay up to $20 million toward property acquisition costs for the south site. Property belonging to two churches would have to be acquired.