It was an overflow audience at City Hall this afternoon as the Atlanta City Council took up a proposal to approve the deal for a new Falcons stadium that was accepted by the Georgia World Congress Center board.
The meeting is still going on as I write this, but the full house siphoned off a bit during nearly three hours of public comment. Dozens of folks spoke for and against the stadium proposal, with most comments falling roughly into two categories:
- Those in favor touted the economic development aspects of a new stadium, including more than four thousand construction-related jobs and the prospect of landing future Super Bowls and other events.
- Those opposed—many of whom represented community organizations within Vine City, Castleberry Hills and other nearby neighborhoods—complained that they'd like to see a more favorable community benefits agreement that would help with parking and noise-mitigation issues.
Actually, several of those who argued against a "yes" vote today were advocating a delay, not an all-out rejection of the stadium proposal.
"We really want to support a new stadium," said Deborah Scott, executive director of Georgia Stand-Up, a community advocacy group, "but we think the affected communities can get a better deal."
William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, said more public scrutiny is needed for a proposal that could cost "$882 million in public money," a figure that presumably includes all potential interest costs on the initial $200 million in public bonds, as well as possible maintenance expenses.
Somewhere north of 5 p.m., Councilwoman Felicia Moore made a motion to delay the stadium vote and instead send the matter back to committee—which would mean the council wouldn't take it up again until it returns next month from its spring break. Her motion fails on a vote of 10-5, which is a solid indicator that Mayor Reed probably has more votes than he needs to pass his plan.
Still, discussions continue as council members who support the stadium offer amendments to make their colleagues more comfortable: one by Carla Smith stating that no money from the city's general fund will be used to build or maintain the facility; another by Michael Bond stipulating that benefits agreements be reached with Vine City and other affected communities before the bonds are issued in about a year's time.
We'll provide an update when the final vote is taken…
UPDATE: A day that began with the slenderest of margins in favor of the stadium proposal just wrapped up with Mayor Reed taking a rhetorical victory lap after a surprisingly lopsided vote to approve the deal.
"My mama always told me not to stand in fron of a speeding train, so I'm going to stay on the platform," said opponent Felicia Moore, moments before the vote was taken.
Final score: 11-4, with only Moore, Kwanza Hall, Howard Shook and Alex Wan voting thumbs down. Even Yolanda Adrean, an apparent no vote all day long, joined the majority at the end.
The mayor, who stood in the wings during the vote, took the podium to thank the council and to promise that the city would do a better job of protecting the interests of affected neighborhoods than happened when the Georgia Dome was built.
"Vine City and English Avenue have a lot of pain, but this time around, we're going to get things right," he said.