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Super Bowl in Atlanta? Hefty price tag for open-air stadium

ATLANTA -- There is a certain calculus to what determines whether a city gets to hold a Super Bowl. One of the biggest factors: a new stadium. Atlanta has not hosted a Super Bowl in over a decade. It is not likely to again until it builds a new one.

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank and the Georgia World Congress Center are pushing for a new $700 million stadium funded in large part by a hotel-motel tax.

But overwhelmingly, Georgians oppose shelling out tax money to fund an open-air stadium, according to an independent statewide poll commissioned exclusively for 11Alive.

Seventy-four percent of all Georgians oppose building an open-air stadium for the Falcons if it involves public funds. 63 percent are against funding a new stadium if it were the only way to attract another Super Bowl. Fifty-six percent would oppose such a plan even if it were the only way to keep the team from leaving altogether.

The Politics of a Super Bowl

In an interview, 11Alive Sports Director Fred Kalil asked Falcons owner Arthur Blank, "How do we get a Super Bowl back here?"

"One of the ways is to have an open-air stadium, to be honest," Blank said. "The owners are very sensitive and typically very supportive of communities where there's financial public support for a new stadium."

"I think that an open air stadium is key to us attracting future Super Bowls," Mayor Kasim Reed said. "We have talked to the NFL commissioner about that. It will give us unparalleled convention center infrastructure."

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told 11Alive News in November 2010, "a new stadium would be very helpful as it relates to getting a new Super Bowl here."

In the past decade, nine new NFL stadiums have opened. Since then, six of them have hosted or will be hosting the Super Bowl.

"Atlanta has what I call public purpose capitalism," former Mayor Andrew Young said. "We don't tax people and spend it. We decide this is in our best interest and we put a little money in it and invest it."

Young was crucial to keeping the Falcons from fleeing to Jacksonville in the early '90s by building the Georgia Dome. The result: the Falcons stayed, and Atlanta hosted Super Bowls XXVIII and XXXIV.

But Mayor Reed has said he will not be the Mayor to lose the Falcons. And he knows, there is not a single government entity that has stood up to the NFL and won.

Don't We Have a Good Stadium Already?

Developers have their eyes on a blighted 28-acre tract within sight of the Georgia Dome, just North on Northside Drive. It is an area that was once occupied by Herndon Homes, a public housing project where 250 families lived before it was torn down in 2010.

Governor Deal put money aside in his 2012 budget to purchase land all around it. If greenlighted, a new stadium could open as soon as 2017.

But taxpayer watchdogs are throwing up their hands. The Georgia Dome, after all, is less than 30 years old, has recently been refurbished and is full of bookings from Monster Jam to major evangelical events.

As much as $400 million could come from the public till at a time when resources could be better spent or handed back to a struggling tax base.

"Can the city afford to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for a stadium? I don't think we could," John Sherman of the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation said.

City leaders point to an enormous upside for the city. The Atlanta Sports Council estimates the Super Bowl brought in almost $300 million in 2000.

There is also the argument that both facilities will stay busy, as the Dome plans to host events like the Final Four, NCAA bowl games, concerts like U2 and other events to keep its 71,500 seats filled year round.

"All there is to do is to find a deal that's fair and that the public can support," Mayor Reed said.

Currying Favor

The Georgia World Congress Center Authority has been quietly advancing the cause of a new football stadium at the state capitol.  To do so, the GWCCA will need help from lawmakers. 

To help maintain friendly relations with lawmakers, the GWCCA is generous with tickets to pricey events at the Georgia Dome, ranging from events like Falcons playoff tickets to Monster Jam seats. 

The GWCCA discloses all of the tickets it provides to lawmakers at the state ethics commission site.  Lawmakers say they accept the tickets for various reasons.  Sometimes, they say they take constituents to events they might not otherwise get to see.  Lawmakers say the free tickets don't sway them when they have to make hard funding decisions relating to the GWCCA.

Ticket Transparency

We've gone through the GWCCA disclosure reports dating back to January 2011.  Our analysis shows 96 transfers of tickets from the GWCCA to lawmakers in the last thirteen months. 

  • The January 14, 2011 report shows Falcons tickets provided for Reps. Bill Hembree, Jay Neal, Katie Dempsey and Sen. Vincent Fort.
  • The January 31, 2011 report shows Falcons tickets for Sens. Chip Rogers, Don Balfour and Judson Hill, plus "Battle of the Bands" tickets for Sen. Vincent Fort.  This reports shows that Rogers reimbursed the GWCCA for his tickets.
  • The February 14, 2011 report shows Monster Jam tickets for Reps. Bill Hembree and Matt Dollar.
  • The February 28, 2011 report shows Supercross tickets for Rep. Bill Hembree.
  • The March 14, 2011 report shows SEC basketball championship tickets for Reps. Ed Lindsey, Len Walker, Stacey Abrams, Carl Rogers, Ron Stephens and Sen. Judson Hill.
  • The March 31, 2011 report shows Auto Show tickets for Reps. Billy Mitchell, Howard Mosby, Matt Dollar and Sens. Butch Miller, Frank Ginn and Steve Gooch.
  • The April 14, 2011 report shows Wrestlemania tickets for Reps. Carl Rogers, Rashad Taylor, and Sens. Don Balfour, Ronnie Chance and Valencia Seay, plus Spiro Amburn, chief of staff to House Speaker David Ralston, and Zach Lewis, staffer to Sen. Cecil Staton.  The report indicates Sen. Chance reimbursed the GWCCA for his tickets.
  • The September 30, 2011 report shows various football tickets for Sens. Don Balfour, Jesse Stone, Ronald Ramsey and Vincent Fort, and Reps. Virgil Fludd, Sean Jerguson, Katie Dempsey, Carl Rogers, Billy Mitchell, Al Williams, Butch Parrish and Speaker David Ralston.
  • The October 31, 2011 report shows Falcons tickets for Sens. Bill Heath, Ed Harbison, Jim Butterworth, Fran Millar and Reps. Stephanie Stuckey-Benfield, Mickey Stephens, Howard Mosby, Earnest Smith, Don Parsons, Wendell Willard, Roger Williams, Rahn Mayo, Elly Dobbs and Coach Williams.
  • The November 30, 2011 report shows Falcons tickets for Sens. Bill Hamrick, Frank Ginn, Steve Gooch, Curt Thompson, Gloria Butler, Valencia Seay and Reps. Ron Stephens, Rashad Taylor, Brooks Coleman, Ed Rynders, Craig Gordon, John Yates, Jimmy Pruett and Ed Lindsey.
  • The December 31, 2011 report shows various football tickets for Reps. Mickey Channel, Allen Peake, Jay Neal, Karla Drenner, Kathy Ashe and Sens. John Albers, Bill Hammrick and Ron Ramsey.
  • The January 14, 2012 report shows college or NFL tickets for Reps. Calvin Hill, Carl Rogers, James Beverly and Sen. Judson Hill, and Monster Jam tickets for Reps. Bill Hembree, Billy Mitchell, and Sen. Chip Rogers. The report indicates Rogers reimbursed the GWCCA for his tickets.
  • The January 31, 2012 report shows Honda Battle of the Bands tickets for Reps. Billy Mitchell, Karla Drenner and Stephanie Stuckey-Benfield, and Sens. Valencia Seay and Vincent Fort.