SHOULD WE SPEND TAXPAYER MONEY ON PROFESSIONAL SPORTS?

Plans were recently announced to commit $142 million in taxpayer funds to renovate Philips Arena in a 30- year deal with the Atlanta Hawks.  

During this election season, I think voters should hear from candidates on their positions as important issues arise.  Public funding for professional sports teams is particularly important to examine because it obligates millions of dollars for projects that encourage tourism to team owners who can afford to support their own facilities.  Most economic analyses of public funding for stadiums and arenas have concluded that these projects are usually not a good deal for taxpayers.  

What makes the deal right for Atlanta and keeps the Hawks downtown?

Credit: Alison Guillory / WABE

Credit: Alison Guillory / WABE

This is a good time for us to have a robust discussion about whether to fund these renovations.  We need to understand more about the detailed cost of the renovations, what taxpayers should invest in and what the owners should pay for.  

When recent local investments in sports facilities tally to $1 billion, it’s really important to have transparency and thorough discussion about the details. 

Who is responsible for contingencies and cost overruns?  Why not put revenue sharing on the table to help offset the investment from the city?  Why don’t we retain the right to sell the name of the facilities to offset our investment?  There may be a better deal to be made if we look a little closer.  

We need to also understand the opportunity cost to Atlanta if we decide to use all of our funds from the car rental tax in this manner.  Car rental tax funds can only be used to promote tourism, to improve facilities in and around Philips Arena and for security and public safety costs associated with the arena.  Given the traffic congestion in the area when there are special events (ask me about the day Beyoncé got between me and my destination across town), should we not consider transportation and transit improvements that keep fans safe traveling to and from the area?  Or using some funds to offset the cost of providing police presence during events? Or should we consider completely different uses of these funds?

I’d like to see Atlanta invest more in facilities and programs that support arts and cultural tourism.  

Atlanta is known as the birthplace of the Civil Rights movement and yet you’d hardly know it by the condition of some of our most important landmarks – buildings on Auburn Avenue range from modestly renovated to crumbling; the original Paschal’s is boarded up, and Gaines Hall is a shell at risk of collapse. 

Walkways and signage for visitors, where they exist, are not world class.  The Atlanta Opera and Atlanta Ballet have decamped for facilities outside the city that are more modern and have the right specifications for their needs.  The Atlanta Civic Center was never a great building, but we have taken a 5,000-seat public venue out of commission without any plans to replace it.  We spend about $1 million annually to support about 70 artists and organizations – an average of about $15,000 to groups that provide year-round programs to residents and visitors alike. 

Atlanta arts organizations provide about 8,500 full-time jobs and over $27 million in tax revenue annually and provide the kind of lively and original experiences that make people want to live in and visit our city.  Most organizations are nonprofits that reinvest and hire locally and they do it with nominal public investment.   It’s time we understand how much revenue we have lost by failing to invest strategically in arts and cultural tourism.  Using proceeds from the car rental tax to support world-class arts and cultural institutions is an investment that may pay better dividends for Atlanta than placing all of our investments in one channel.  That’s why this discussion is so important.

I will continue to let you know my position on issues that impact the city so that you can know where I stand.  I may agree or disagree with other candidates or public officials and that really isn’t the point.  The point is that we are talking about a vision of the future of Atlanta as a world class international city that preserves our incredible neighborhoods and environment while honoring and building on our heritage of providing opportunity and safety to all who want to live and visit Atlanta.  And that’s worth talking about.  

Lee Woodsmall