The Atlanta Falcons' new stadium: Questions and answers

Kevin C. Cox

The Falcons made a deal with Atlanta for a new stadium. It's not bad, really.

Do you really need a new stadium considering the Georgia Dome is as old as Taylor Lautner and Caribou Coffee? No. No we do not.

Then why is it happening? The honest answer is probably this: that the Falcons want to increase their revenue share and control over "the Gameday experience," i.e. reduce the role the Georgia World Congress Center plays in their operations. They accomplish this task by building a new stadium they control on the GWCC's turf, reduce the cut they pay to other people, and in turn get the shiny new toy every NFL franchise wants. In return, Atlanta gets a new stadium with something amounting to 80/20 funding. In theory.

Is working with the state of Georgia a bad thing? Like, bad enough to demand a new stadium in order to do it? Read back those questions to yourself out loud. Now see if you need to ask either of them again. (Answer: you do not.)

Are there any other reasons this is happening? In Atlanta we tear down anything that's been here for longer than 20 years, which is why I have to move in seven years and then return after a probationary period. It's just what we do.

Since this is an NFL stadium deal, how much blatant robbery of public money occurred here? A bit, but that's money long since stolen via the hotel tax, which by law must go towards “Promoting tourism, conventions, and trade shows." There are local costs to it, as there are with any tax, but the direct amount of money in theory is coming from tourism taxes levied on hapless conventioneers breezing through town.

Who got paid? The neighborhoods surrounding the Georgia Dome, who will receive $15 million of Blank Foundation money for community projects in addition to $15 million from the city's tax allocation funds to take to grant-matching attempts with other private donors. This part is pretty close to legitimate business as far as Blank's charitable donation, as the Blank Foundation is one of the city's largest private charities and a dedicated one at that. (Full disclosure: at one time I managed one of their grants for a local charity. They were full-stop great with no qualifiers, and have a good reputation in town for their work.)

Anyone else? The Falcons, in a sense, since they will have a heavy hand in the control of the new stadium but not end up owning the stadium. That ownership will likely remain with the GWCC in title, but make no mistake: this is Arthur Blank's stadium with a bit of public funding built into it.

Relatively speaking: how bad is it? Not as bad as it could be by miles (in theory.) Local tax rebellion enthusiasts will still scream at the local hotel tax money going to the Falcons new home, but most likely will do it from the suburbs where they live, and not from the city. The new stadium keeps the SEC title game in town, and lines Atlanta up for all the usual large sporting events that make up a solid chunk of the tourism economy: the Chick-fil-A Bowl, a hypothetical college football playoff game, the Final Four, WrestleMania stop yes WrestleMania is a major sporting event here no stop laughing it is.

So it doesn't sound too bad, no? No, not in theory. The Falcons get more control and a greater piece of their own pie for at least the next 30 years, the city keeps the team and gets a new stadium out of it with 80/20 private/public financing, and we're not Tampa, Minnesota, or Cincinnati. (Man, we are so not Cincinnati.) More importantly, Arthur Blank is not Jerry Richardson, crying poverty while making a tidy profit and lining up his host city for the bulk of stadium costs. The worst threat the Falcons made was moving out to the suburbs, something literally every person, business, or stray dog in the city of Atlanta has done at one point.

But that stadium was opened in 1992. It can't even drink yet. That part is still a bit mystifying, honestly, but with the stadium set to open in 2017 the Georgia Dome will have a chance to enjoy a few years of legal consumption. Also, stadiums are inanimate objects and can't drink, and this is a silly question. Blank's not going to live forever, and at 70 years old he probably wanted to secure the home for the Falcons before he got too far into his pajamas-and-brandy years.

In theory, this sort of works. In theory, yes. A lot could happen in between happy press conference and 2017. Costs could skyrocket. New taxes could somehow become necessary, and then we'll be having the same conversation about Arthur Blank and the Falcons that we have about every other owner and team in the NFL when it comes to stadiums and public financing. For now this doesn't seem too bad, but theory is the easy part. Practice is a whole different matter.

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