Atlanta Falcons fans wait outside to enter the Georgia Dome. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA -- "We have tried to be transparent," said Rich McKay, president of the Atlanta Falcons. He's talking about the project to build a new retractable-roof stadium to replace the Georgia Dome.
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McKay says the deal to build the Atlanta Falcons a new stadium is good for the public. But persuading the public, he says, isn't his job.
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"I don't think it's important for us to be in the business of trying to persuade them. I think it is important for us to be in the business of educating them as to what this deal is," McKay said in an interview with 11 Alive News. "I think the totality of the deal persuades them."
But backers of the project acknowledge that the public is largely unpersuaded. Critics say it's because the project's backers have lobbied and negotiated mostly in private.
"We are very concerned that the pattern that is emerging here is one of excluding the public," said former state representative Wyc Orr Monday. Orr is now a board member of Common Cause Georgia.
Last month, backers of the project met privately with the Governor to sell the new stadium. In the last week or so, they've begun meeting with members of the legislature, who will have to approve the stadium deal. Those meeting aren't public either.
"We get a lot of public comment relative to this program. But most of that comment is directed toward 'we don't think we need to do this deal,'" said Frank Poe, executive director of the Georgia World Congress Center Authority during an interview with 11 Alive News.
Q: Given the fact that so much of the comment that you're getting is negative, I wonder if you ought to rethink how you're engaging the public.
Poe: "No, because the engagement and the comment that we get is at a level of 'we don't think you need to do the deal. For an NFL team, let them do that deal on their own.'"
Q: So you're saying, you have to deal with the legislature. Let the legislature deal with the public basically.
Poe: "Well, they have their own constituents. We have our constituents which include the General Assembly, but also the publics that we touch."
Poe says the GWCC has gotten public input from neighborhoods surrounding the project site -- as well as email and phone calls to the GWCC offices. Backers of the project say they want the public persuaded. But to get the project done, they need to persuade the legislature.