Once again, the City of Atlanta is defying its relatively small population base and its own economic challenges to invest in Georgia’s future – a new, state-owned stadium for the Atlanta Falcons football team.
The agreement between the City of Atlanta and the Atlanta Falcons holds great significance – far beyond the building of a new home for one of the state’s top professional sports teams.
The agreement is one more example that without Atlanta’s leadership, Georgia would have been stuck in reverse.
There are too many examples to name. But here are a few.
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, arguably the most important economic engine for the whole state, was and is a creature of the City of Atlanta. Virtually every company that locates in Gwinnett or Cobb or North Fulton or any other suburban county in the metro region mentions the airport as a major reason.
But none of those governments contribute to the City of Atlanta and the airport in a tangible way.
For decades, a three-party alliance among the City of Atlanta, Fulton County and DeKalb County has moved the entire region forward.
Think MARTA. Those three jurisdictions passed the MARTA Act in 1971 to build a rapid transit system that’s a mere skeleton of what should be a regional system (had other counties and the state joined in).
But even without that support, MARTA has been instrumental in the whole region and the state entering the international stage.
Without MARTA, Atlanta never would have won the 1988 Democratic National Convention, the 1994 and 2000 Super Bowls, and most important, the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. Without MARTA, Georgia never would have become one of the country’s leading convention centers.
Again, the whole region and whole state have profited from MARTA. But only three local governments have been paying for its annual operating costs. In fact, rather than provide financial support, the state keeps trying to impose onerous conditions on MARTA, making it even more difficult for it to fulfill its mission.
Now we have the new Atlanta Falcons stadium, a building that will be owned by the state from day one.
Yet the public financing for the deal will come entirely from the City of Atlanta’s hotel-motel tax.
When the Georgia Dome was being built more than 20 years ago, the State of Georgia issued $200 million in revenue bonds backed by hotel-motel taxes collected in the City of Atlanta and unincorporated Fulton County.
This time around, Gov. Nathan Deal and the State of Georgia did not want to take a political risk to get legislative approval to issue either $300 million or $200 million in revenue bonds (still backed by the city’s hotel-motel taxes) for the $1 billion project. The Atlanta Falcons have agreed to cover the balance of the project’s costs and possible overruns.
So it was left to Atlanta and Mayor Kasim Reed to take the lead – a city that represents only 10 percent of the region’s population and about 5 percent of the state’s population – has re-emerged as the government that is leading the state.
Overlay these truths with all the Atlanta leaders who have provided the vision and the moral high ground over the decades – lifting Georgia and the South to a place of tolerance, wisdom and relative prosperity and peace.
Just where would Georgia have been without Henry Grady, William B. Hartsfield, Ralph McGill, Ivan Allen Jr., Martin Luther King Jr., Ted Turner, Coretta Scott King, Maynard Jackson, Andrew Young, Shirley Franklin, Jimmy Carter, Sam Nunn, Carl Sanders, Bill Foege and so many others?
So today I applaud the City of Atlanta for stepping in and taking the lead in the Falcons deal.
Still, I can’t help wonder how much stronger Georgia would be if Atlanta truly had a meaningful and constructive partnership with the rest of the region and the state.
It is an all-too-common refrain in the United States for there to be tension between state governments and their signature big cities. Over the years, the anti-Atlanta attitude at the Capitol has been so extreme that it was common to refer to the state as “the two Georgias.”
But it may just be a matter of time, with the growing urbanization in the state and the nation, before Georgia will seek to partner with its capital city – as a way to protect its own economic future.
Maria Saporta is a long-time business and civic journalist in Atlanta. She is founder and editor of www.SaportaReport.com and a weekly contributor to the Atlanta Business Chronicle.