One of those decisions — the construction of a new stadium to replace an aging Georgia Dome — faces our state today. While there are certainly many factors to consider, an agreement to build a new stadium that shifts the vast majority of the construction expense and future risk to the private sector is a sound investment that will save taxpayers money in the long run.
Georgia has experienced the benefits of a new stadium. Construction of the Georgia Dome helped secure the 1996 Olympics, two Super Bowls, marquis college football games, and the NCAA Final Four. It is home to the Atlanta Falcons and to high school playoffs and has played a significant role in growing our hospitality and tourism industry, which generated $1.26 billion in state tax revenue and directly or indirectly supported 10.3 percent of jobs in Georgia in 2011.
But the Dome is no longer new. In fact, it is now one of the oldest stadiums in the NFL. Our competitors have been hard at work constructing new facilities that will threaten our future success. The Dome’s highest-profile tenant has a lease that runs out in 2020, and events such as the Super Bowl or the Bowl Championship Series are only interested in newer stadiums.
An agreement must be reached soon so that construction can begin and Georgia can retain its competitive edge. Some argue that it would be better to renovate the existing Georgia Dome, but the facts tell us otherwise. The existing facility is owned by the state. Taxpayers are responsible both for paying what remains of the bond debt, and for all operating, maintenance and capital expenses — including what would be a costly renovation.
The Falcons have proposed a deal for the new stadium in which they assume not only the majority of the cost of construction, between $700 and $800 million, but also the operating and capital improvement expenses — while treating the public sector as a partner with regard to design and the handling of all legacy events. Under the current proposal, the city of Atlanta would pay at least $200 million through the hotel/motel tax.
In addition, the new stadium as proposed would allow Georgia to expand its sports industry by adding Major League Soccer, which continues to grow in popularity. Opportunities like this one do not come along often and are never without their share of criticism. While it is important to respect all opinions — and to weigh all the facts — it is equally important that we make the decision that will be best for our state in the long term.
We applaud Gov. Nathan Deal, Mayor Kasim Reed, the Atlanta Falcons and state and local elected officials for their continued efforts to reach an agreement. We hope they are ultimately able to reach a decision that will facilitate a new stadium, support our growing hospitality and tourism industry and contribute to Georgia’s overall competitiveness
It is the right investment and one that will reap significant returns long into the future.
Steve Green is the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s 2013 board chair, and Chris Clark is its president and CEO. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.