The Georgia Dome is a world-class sporting facility that serves the National Football League’s Atlanta Falcons and often hosts the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament, the SEC football championship, an annual bowl game, and the NCAA Tournament. In 2013, it’s slated to host the NCAA Men’s Final Four — college basketball’s biggest event — and it’s been home to two NFL Super Bowls. Judging by the fact that major events keep coming back, the place is in fine shape.
In the eyes of its inhabitants, though, the Georgia Dome is old, crumbling, and wholly inadequate, and if the Falcons and the city of Atlanta get their way, the Dome won’t stand much longer — even though it’s only 20 years old. According to new plans announced by the city of Atlanta and the Falcons yesterday, the Dome will soon be replaced by a $950-million, state-of-the-art facility with a retractable roof. The Georgia Dome — built a measly two decades ago — will be imploded, and taxpayers will be footing at least part of the bill, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:
The new plan comes with a higher price. A GWCC-commissioned study released Wednesday put the cost of a new retractable-roof stadium at $947.7 million, up from the $700 million estimated last year for an open-air stadium. Under either plan the public-sector contribution would be an estimated $300 million from an extension of the hotel-motel occupancy tax, passed by the Georgia Legislature in 2010, according to Frank Poe, executive director of the GWCC Authority, the state agency that operates the Dome.
The hotel-motel occupancy tax was originally passed to help finance the construction of the Georgia Dome. It was supposed to expire in 2010, but when the owners of the Falcons threatened to pursue a new stadium in the Atlanta suburbs, the Georgia legislature rushed to extend it so as to keep the team downtown. The extension included an agreement that the Falcons could pursue a new stadium on the same site. Less than two years later, they’re doing exactly that.
The recession and a sluggish economic recovery, meanwhile, crunched Georgia’s state budget and forced deep cuts into areas like education. The state owes local school districts more than $5 billion collectively — Atlanta-area school districts are millions of dollars short. In 2011, the state cut $403 million from its education budget after taking cuts of $300 million and $275 million in the previous two years.
The Falcons want a new stadium because they feel they’re missing out on the riches that come with new skyboxes and luxury suites — amenities the Georgia Dome lacks compared to newer NFL facilities. Still, the team’s value has increased nearly $300 million since owner Arthur Blank bought it in 2002. If the Falcons want a new stadium, they should build one. They just shouldn’t come to taxpayers asking for help.