Atlanta’s new stadium: Boost or boondoggle?

Football and God rarely clash in the South. But the neighborhood surrounding the future $1 billion new Falcons’ stadium may be forced to lose two of its historic churches due to the new stadium, scheduled to open in 2017.

Local officials claim that that the new stadium will revitalize the western portion of downtown that struggles with unrelenting crime, high unemployment, and poor school performance. Per The New York Times,

“Politicians are also trying to portray the new stadium as a way to help redefine the beleaguered western flank of downtown, a civic jewel that would re-energize the core of a city that has long considered itself the glittering capital city of the South.”

The new stadium comes with a $45 million fund dedicated to benefit the surrounding communities of English Avenue, Vine City and Castleberry Hill.

But neighborhood residents who attend Friendship Baptist Church and Mount Vernon Baptist Church, the two churches in the way of the stadium’s development, do not agree with the city’s priorities. After all, these churches offer more than a place of worship. Friendship Baptist is one of the most historically important black churches in the region. It was established in 1862, in the days after the Civil War, as the first independent African-American Baptist congregation in Atlanta.

Regardless, “We want what the Buckhead kids have,” said Andrew A. Motley, pastor of Lindsay Street Baptist Church in the English Avenue community.

“Resources. Our children’s needs are no less. They don’t have options for resources. We need recreational facilities and green space. All they have are the drug deals and the users, the appearance of glamour from the drug dealers (and) police not as friends but as occupiers. We know the stadium will be built, but it is a luxury among all the needs around us.”

The stadium will be both privately and publicly funded. Although Arthur Blank, owner of the Falcons, will cover $800 million of the stadium cost, the city will likely provide $200-300 million through city-issued bonds and revenue from the future hotel-motel tax.

If the public is going to fund this stadium, it should offer more than a flashy arena that will likely be used for fewer than 10 NFL games a year.  Legislators should ensure that the future neighbors of the stadium, who will likely sacrifice a part of their history and identity in the loss of two of their churches, should benefit from the new stadium.  There are already too many instances of promised revitalization from politicians that ultimately only bring commercial activity benefitting the larger city while ignoring the most dire needs of the neighborhood.