ATLANTA - The debate over whether public financing should be used to help fund a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons was revived today with a state watchdog group announcing an effort to place a ballot measure before city voters calling for a stop to public funds being used.
The organizer is Common Cause Georgia. Executive Director William Perry acknowledged it will be a "monumental task" to get the 35,000 signatures needed to qualify the measure for the November ballot. But he said the effort was worth it so the public can finally have a say in the process.
"For us, failure is not not getting enough signatures. It would be stepping back and saying this is over," Perry said. "Until the bonds are given and ground is broken, it's not too late for citizens to have a part in this process."
State and city officials have signed off on the $1 billion stadium in downtown Atlanta. Officials estimate $200 million from public bonds will be used to build the new, retractable-roof stadium. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has said the stadium is a key project that will create jobs and revitalize downtown neighborhoods.
In a statement, Reed called the effort a "losing proposition" and noted the stadium deal has already resulted in Atlanta being named as a host city for the College Football Playoff series and strengthened its bid to host a Super Bowl.
"These types of events help create and sustain jobs in our city, have a significant economic impact and help us maintain Atlanta's position as the dominant city in the southeastern United States," Reed said. "Common Cause Georgia should focus on moving our city forward, not taking us backwards."
Perry said his group was not opposed to a new stadium but did not support the use of public funds to build it. The public financing comes from bonds using a tax on the city's hotel and motel visitors, a revenue stream that was used to help finance construction of the Georgia Dome that opened in 1992. That facility is the current home of the Falcons and plans call for it to be demolished when the new stadium opens for the 2017 season.
Wyc Orr, a former state lawmaker and board member of Common Cause Georgia, said he was troubled by what he called a lack of transparency in the process and said the money collected from the tax could instead be used to tackle the city's infrastructure needs.
"Everyone has had a voice and a vote on this except the people of the city of Atlanta whose money is going to be used," Orr said. "They have decided to include the public's money but exclude the public."
The ballot measure asks voters whether the City Council resolution authorizing the public financing be repealed. Perry said that if a majority of voters say yes, the law requires city officials to repeal it. He acknowledged it was possible the City Council could pass a new resolution, but said he hoped that, if that happened, elected officials would follow the will of voters.
Perry said the group filed its petition request today with the municipal clerk's office. Once the clerk provides an official copy of the petition, the group will have 60 days to collect at least 35,000 signatures.