By Bobby Reems
Two contenders to replace Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed on Thursday slammed his decision to use public funds to keep the Atlanta Hawks in a remodeled Philips Arena.
State Sen. Vincent Fort, who entered the crowded race last week, called the plan to spend $142.5 million in taxpayer funds to renovate the arena a “sweetheart development deal.” And former Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard told our AJC colleague Scott Trubey it was “a giveaway to billionaires.”
The two candidates are trying to turn the controversial plan to pony up public money for stadiums into a litmus test in a jam-packed contest. They’re also stepping up their criticism of the two-term mayor, who has far cozier relations with several other contenders running to replace him.
Woolard, who also has slammed Reed’s use of blue lights during routine trips, told Trubey that city lawmakers need to have a “robust and transparent” debate on the proposed deal, which would commit the Hawks to playing downtown through 2046.
“As a city we are assuming all of the risk for these investments and we are getting none of the revenue that comes as a result of that,” she said. “That’s accruing to the business owners. I think that formula needs to be disrupted pretty tremendously.”
Fort, whose spats with Reed are the stuff of legend, said the mayor is too focused on “millionaire sports owners.”
“No longer should the richest guy in the room make all the decisions about the future of our city and how our tax dollars are spent,” said Fort, the No. 2 Democrat in the chamber. “This sweetheart development deal is not only a taxpayer giveaway to millionaires, but it shifts resources away from the very communities that need it the most.”
Here’s more from Trubey:
Reed spokeswoman Jenna Garland sent over a statement Thursday blasting Woolard and said the project is vital to keeping Philips competitive and helping to revitalize downtown.
“Unfortunately, Cathy Woolard is engaged in yet another desperate attempt to draw attention to her failing Mayoral campaign, which follows her failed attempt to run for Congress after quitting on the people of Atlanta when she resigned her seat as City Council President to run for another office.
“The city has been discussing renovations to Philips Arena for a full year. Mayor Reed has discussed it with the press and the AJC has reported on it extensively. [The AJC recently published] a front page story examining all three stadium deals.
“Philips Arena is a public facility – owned by the City of Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority. Investing public funds in a public asset is not a ‘giveaway.’”
Earlier this month, Reed and the Hawks announced the plan for a $192.5 million overhaul of Philips. He and other backers said the project could help fuel revitalization of the moribund stretch of downtown parking lots and rail beds known as The Gulch.
The Hawks deal follows one between the city and the Falcons for Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the Cobb County agreement with the Braves.
The upfront public piece of the new Falcons stadium is $200 million, and $142.5 million for Philips. But the revenue from hotel/motel and car rental taxes directed to each arena — including interest and capital improvements in the case of Mercedes-Benz stadium — could rise to about $1 billion over the next three decades, Woolard said.
Attracting a Super Bowl and college sports championships, she said, isn’t enough of a return on the public’s investment.
Most of the city’s share in the Philips project will come from an extension of the rental car tax. Reed has said $12.5 million will come from the soon-to-be-completed sale of Turner Field to Georgia State University and its partners, while another $20 million will come from future sales of city assets.
Woolard said the public was told $250 million in infrastructure bonds issued last year were supposed to be supported by the sale of city assets. That money wasn’t supposed to go to another stadium deal, she said.
Fort, long an outspoken critic of Reed, has also criticized money being diverted from the sale of Turner Field to help pay for the city’s share of the Philips makeover. He said those funds should be used to benefit neighborhoods near The Ted.