Georgia

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DeKalb County Approves Embattled Atlanta United Soccer Stadium

25 Aug, 2015

By: Tracey Schelmetic

The debacle of the withdrawn bid by Boston for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games is a prime example of the two-tier nature of municipal sports sponsorship. Often, events such as the Olympics, World Cup and other high profile events are a dream for a small handful of investors, builders and city planners, but a nightmare for the citizenry of a city that must foot the skyrocketing bill while yielding little personal gain from the boondoggle (except the prospect of over-the-top traffic and artificially inflated rents).

Atlanta – no stranger to hosting the Olympic Games – may be the next city to experience just such a push-pull sporting bid. A proposed $30 million soccer complex in DeKalb County is drawing supporters who state that it will be a boon for the local economy. Critics of the plan say that it's essentially a government handout that will do little to revitalize the central DeKalb area along Memorial Drive near Interstate 285, according to The Atlanta Journal Constitution. About $12 million of the stadium’s costs would be footed by DeKalb County taxpayers. If the project goes ahead, the stadium would be slated to open in 2018. Last week, the DeKalb County Commission voted 4-3 to approve the financing plan in a contentious meeting that saw detractors shouting to be heard over the vote.

A fact sheet distributed by planners of the stadium revealed that the project would be a 3,500-seat stadium to be used for team practices and games for the Atlanta United Football Club of Major League Soccer, and three soccer fields in the first phase of construction. (The stadium would also potentially be used by the Atlanta Falcons.) Planners are leaving open the possibility of a future indoor training facility and four additional fields at a later date. It will also include a two-story building to serve as Atlanta United’s new team headquarters.

"The influx of activity will spur tourism to the area, which contributes to commercial and retail growth in the Memorial Drive corridor," said the fact sheet.

Opponents, which include Commissioner Kathie Gannon, say the project would use too much taxpayer money and offer few, if any, benefits to area residents. Atlanta United would be able to use the complex without having to pay property taxes, and the agreement with the county includes the possibility of state tax credits worth up to $3,500 per job created. Voters would need to approve a one percent sales tax increase for infrastructure and property tax relief. DeKalb County would need to provide the 41 acres required for the complex, and the county would also pay about $5 million for demolition and land clearing of the existing site, as well as $7 million so the county could locate its park department in new offices in the stadium. Taxpayers would gain about 123 new full-time jobs, and a portion of the infrastructure funding to be used for a pedestrian walkway to the Kensington MARTA station.

"We're giving away the house," said Gannon. "It's like someone has a dream and they have a checkbook of taxpayer dollars. It doesn't correlate to community needs."

Detractors of the current stadium plan say they support Atlanta United, but they simply want a better deal for the county.

“We all want Atlanta United, and they know DeKalb is the best site for their training operations, but we have to negotiate a better deal,” said Commissioner Jeff Rader. “Let’s step back on this decision, put the facts on the table and do a deal that’s better for everybody.”

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