ATLANTA -- The election is still almost a year away, but the race for mayor of Atlanta is taking a noteworthy turn over taxpayer funding for public arenas – like Philips and the news Falcons stadium.
Securing the taxpayer portion of funding for the new Falcons stadium was one of the trickiest political tightropes Mayor Kasim Reed had to navigate in his seven years in office.
But for some folks who want to be the next mayor, it’s not tricky at all.
"It’s an outrageous deal," said state Sen. Vincent Fort, outraged about public funding to renovate Philips Arena, home of the Atlanta Hawks. It's a $142 million dollar public investment happily announced this month by Mayor Reed.
In contrast, Fort is happy to denounce that deal and the city’s part in funding a portion of the enormous football stadium under construction across the street – soon to be home of the Atlanta Falcons.
"Enriching billionaires is not what City Hall ought to be doing," Fort said Friday. "City Hall ought to be watching out for taxpayers, the regular people in the neighborhood."
Fort is not alone. Former City Council President Cathy Woolard is also among the candidates for mayor piling onto the arena deals made by the current mayor.
"For the most part, taxpayers are realizing that this is not necessarily a good deal," Woolard said, citing studies critical of public funding of stadiums. "And you know, (they) are demanding that we’re not funding basically the offices of billionaires so they can have these sports teams."
Reed can’t run for a third term but he is emphatically defending the two projects. Press secretary Jenna Garland writes: "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....' It’s always easy to criticize from the sidelines."
One of the candidates for mayor is head of the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority. We tried to reach Keisha Lance Bottoms on her position on this. We never heard back.
She is one of several candidates with close ties to Reed, potentially complicating their positions on the stadium controversies.