Atlanta Council Approves Public Tax Money To Replace 20-Year-Old Football Stadium

Atlanta’s city council overwhelmingly approved a plan that would, on its face, spend $200 million in public tax dollars to replace the Georgia Dome, the 20-year-old home of the National Football League’s Atlanta Falcons. The dome, despite its seemingly young age, is among the older stadiums in the NFL thanks to a rash of publicly-financed construction across the league in recent years.

On first glance, the Atlanta deal seems like a pretty good one for taxpayers, at least relative to other stadium financing plans. The Falcons are going to cover $800 million of the $1 billion cost as well as some infrastructure improvements and cost overruns. But the $200 million cost to taxpayers is actually much larger, according to Neil DeMause at Field of Schemes, who tallied the public cost at more than $500 million once all the subsidies and costs are included:

Add the $300 million to our original $254 million, and we get a total public subsidy for the project of $554 million.

Could this be off? Sure: growth in hotel tax revenues could be less than what it has been; the financing costs for the stadium could eat up more of the money than I’ve estimated; or half a dozen other uncertainties. But as a best guess for how much the Falcons deal would cost the public, “more than half a billion dollars” is an excellent starting point.

While the Falcons have argued that the Georgia Dome’s age relative to other facilities is a hindrance, it hasn’t had any problem hosting major events lately. It will host the NCAA men’s Final Four in April, and it is the often the home of the Southeastern Conference men’s basketball tournament, college football classics and bowl games, and the NCAA Tournament. But it is falling behind in the race to host future Super Bowls (which aren’t as good for the economy as proponents often claim) and it doesn’t have enough luxury suites for owner Arthur Blank to maximize revenue, so the Falcons have spent the last year pushing for a replacement.

Today, they got it, even though Atlanta’s education budgets remain drained and such deals almost always turn out poorly for the taxpayers who foot the bill.