Published Saturday, January 26, 2013

Legislators cautious on stadium proposal

By SARAH FAY CAMPBELL

sarah@newnan.com

Whether to allow the Georgia World Congress Center Authority to increase its borrowing limit to help pay for a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons is just one of many controversial issues playing out in this session of the Georgia General Assembly.

So far, there isn’t much public support for the current plan, which would have the authority issuing around $300 million in bonds for the new stadium. The bonds would be paid off with money from the hotel/motel tax collected in the city of Atlanta and unincorporated Fulton County. The city of Atlanta will also likely have to fund sizable infrastructure improvements to make the new stadium, which would be built near the current Georgia Dome, a reality.

The other $700 million or so will be paid for by the Falcons and the National Football League.

Currently, there is a lot of negotiating taking place in the state’s executive branch.

“It’s been talked about. But from what I can gather, it is also being negotiated at the executive level,” said State Rep. Lynn Smith, R-Newnan. “I don’t know what is going to happen there.”

“It’s too early to tell,” Smith said.

“Every year, things flash, pop up... and they’re big things,” said Smith. “We know the Falcons’ owners are pushing for this.”

“I’m going to wait and see what comes out of it,” she said.

State Sen. Mike Crane, R-Newnan, said he plans to meet with Georgia World Congress Center Authority next week to review the various proposals and tour the recent renovations to the Georgia Dome.

“I have requested final data about the Georgia Dome and its operational costs and revenue,” Crane said. “I am not in support of raising our debt ceiling to accommodate private interests.”

The purpose of hotel/motel taxes is to pay for improvements related to tourism. The city of Atlanta increased the hotel/motel tax by a penny specifically to help fund the construction of the Georgia Dome, which was completed in 1992.

In Coweta County, hotel/motel taxes have been used to pay for the visitor center and other tourism-related activities.

“The debate appears to be when it triggers an amount higher than what was approved,” Smith said.

“We don’t have anything firm yet. We just have speculation.”

The initial request was to raise the GWCCA’s borrowing limit from $200 million to $300 million.

The Georgia World Congress Center and the Georgia Dome are owned by the state of Georgia, through the GWCC authority. The new stadium would also be owned by the authority, under the terms of a “term sheet” approved by the authority’s board of governors in December.

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