Saturday didn't go exactly as I had hoped. The game between the University of Georgia and Alabama was one for the ages. Alas, this was not to be Georgia's year. I was in 6th grade the last time it was our year. My incoming gray hair reminds me that was a long time ago. As a true fan, I will keep waiting, and keep cheering.
The day at the Georgia Dome was special. For the first time, I was a guest in one of the Dome's suites to watch the game, courtesy of a great friend who is someone I know well outside of politics. These suites are much of the focus in the desire to replace the current facility with a new one, though the official reason is so that the Falcons can play under a retractable roof.
Retractable roofs do not improve a team's cash flow, however. More luxury suites which cost even more will. Georgia taxpayers are being asked to back $300 million in new bonds that will be paid with Atlanta hotel/motel tax dollars between now and 2050. They're also being asked to waive sales taxes on construction materials. And to buy the land for the new stadium. And to make traffic infrastructure improvements around the area of construction. A half-billion dollars is a nice, round number that taxpayers should use when looking at their total contribution for this gift to the Falcons and their owner, Arthur Blank.
As evidenced by Saturday's game, the Falcons are not the only team that uses the Dome. The SEC Championship game is one of the highest-profile events held there, with a contract to continue doing so until 2017 -- conveniently, the time that the Falcons would like their new home ready.
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive gave glowing praise to the existing facility this past week in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, saying "the Georgia Dome has been terrific for us. The facility has been good and the Dome staff is really superb. And having the proximity of the World Congress Center so that we can have our FanFare running in conjunction with the game, that has become very popular. It's that, plus the fact Atlanta is an easy city to get to. With the development of Centennial Park and all the surrounding events and places that people can go, it has worked out extremely well for us. And we are looking forward to continuing on, even beyond our current contract."
The AJC's natural follow-up was regarding his opinion of the plans for a new stadium and extending the SEC's contract there. He said that once the plans are finalized they will resume discussions, adding "we've not been unhappy at all with the current Dome. But we like the fact that the new stadium is projected to be in essentially the same footprint with the World Congress Center. It reaffirms the fact that Atlanta is committed to staying at the forefront and therefore even makes the game more attractive for us there."
Supporters and detractors are likely to use these words as their own, as Slive is a good politician and understands he's wading into an area of controversy. Of note is that his primary concern -- and strength of the current setup -- is the overall logistics of Atlanta and the Dome/Georgia World Congress Center campus. While a new stadium would be shiny and a presumed upgrade, the package offered by Atlanta includes a relatively new domed stadium attached to a world-class convention center, all surrounded by a convention and tourism district with restaurants and attractions for out-of-town guests.
All of that already exists today, without the additional half-billion dollars of taxpayer money set to be earmarked to benefit one taxpayer -- Arthur Blank.
The SEC, Georgia State's Panthers and many other groups use the Dome throughout the year. It is part of the World Congress Center complex and as such, is an integral part of Atlanta's convention business.
The case has not been made, however, that committing a half-billion dollars of taxpayers' funds to replace one part of this complex with a similar building that functions largely the same for most spectators will provide more benefit to the city and state than it will cost.
Beware of rosy estimates that place the "value" of a new stadium as economic activity that we already have, with an existing facility. I've spent a lot of time in the cheap seats, and one Saturday afternoon in the nicest of them. What we have pleases the SEC and every other user of the Dome. Additional taxpayer funds are not warranted for a replacement at this time.
Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government; www.peachpundit.com.