Ask anyone what Atlanta needs right now and it's unlikely you'll hear, "An open-air stadium to host football games during the city's unpredictable winter months." But the possibility of such a development is very real.
Whether motivated by a desire for prestige, additional revenue, the chance to host a Super Bowl or by simple stadium envy, Falcons owner Arthur Blank has made clear that he wants a shiny new home for his team, which has played in the Georgia Dome since it opened nearly 20 years ago.
Georgia World Congress Center Authority officials, the managers of the 71,250-seat dome and the adjacent convention center, are pondering two options: retrofitting the old dome with a retractable roof; or building a new, $700 million stadium on state-owned property nearly half a mile away at the intersection of Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard and Northside Drive. Public funding from a hotel tax would cover as much as $400 million of the cost for the new facility, with the Falcons chipping in the rest.
The list of cons against a new stadium is long. It would further burden nearby residents and stress connecting thoroughfares, including the already-congested Williams Street exit off the Downtown Connector. The nearest MARTA station and parking lot, next door to Philips Arena, would be a 20-minute walk. The new stadium would seat fewer spectators but house more club-level suites, pushing up ticket prices for the average fan.
Then there's the argument — backed by decades of evidence — that costly stadiums rarely deliver the economic development benefits they promise. The Georgia Dome now hosts a variety of events year-round, from monster truck rallies to motivational confabs, yet it has failed to spur significant redevelopment in nearby Vine City. The proposed new stadium, by contrast, would but serve a single purpose: to host football games. The other 355 days of the year, it would stand empty.
Blank, a justly celebrated entrepreneur and philanthropist, has been a good friend to his adopted city. And the Falcons, despite the occasional lackluster season and dog-fighting scandal, help keep Atlanta in the pro sports mix. But to burden area residents with a brand-new stadium, built with public funds on an ill-situated plot of land next to neighborhoods that have been promised much but given little, strikes us as a bad deal for the city.
As GWCCA officials continue discussions with the team, now's a good time to remind them: Don't give in to threats that Blank might move the team elsewhere. Frankly, it's hard to imagine another local government with the ability to generate enough public cash to build a $700 million stadium. Instead, we need to be certain that we've arrived at the best investment of public dollars and use of public space. The surrounding neighborhoods — and the entire city — deserve the best possible solution.