Add Clayton County to suburban suitors who might be interested in landing the Falcons’ new stadium if talks with the city of Atlanta fail.
Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner said Tuesday the county has prime land near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport that is ripe for development and could be a great place for the stadium. “We want to make sure they know we’re interested,” Turner said. “If they can’t work out a deal in Atlanta, Clayton is interested in entering into discussions in how we can bring the stadium to Clayton County.”
Falcons spokeswoman Kim Shreckengost said late Tuesday that the team has not been contacted by Clayton County and is not familiar with Turner’s idea. She said the Falcons remain focused on working with the city of Atlanta to reach an agreement on a downtown stadium.
“We haven’t talked to the Falcons,” Turner conceded. “We have not reached out to anybody. We’re waiting to see how the negotiations with the city of Atlanta will turn out.”
Clayton is the latest Atlanta suburb to express interest in becoming the Falcons’ new home as negotiations on a downtown stadium have dragged out longer than expected. Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, D-Austell, said the stadium would be a great addition to redevelopment in the Six Flags area of Cobb County. Other metro locations have been mentioned in years past as possible stadium sites.
The Falcons repeatedly have said they’re committed to trying to complete a deal to build the $1 billion stadium with a retractable roof on the Georgia World Congress Center campus downtown. However, team President Rich McKay told the Atlanta City Council Feb. 13 that if a deal can’t be done there, the organization still intends to have a new stadium by 2017 and “would have no choice but to consider pursuing another option in metro Atlanta.”
McKay said after that meeting that the team gets unsolicited calls about suburban sites from time to time. “I can honestly tell you we haven’t looked at any,” he said.
McKay’s comment about the suburban option didn’t sit well with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and McKay last week indicated he regretted bringing up the possibility.
“That shouldn’t be anybody’s focus,” McKay said. “Our focus should be on trying to make this deal work in the city of Atlanta.”
Falcons owner Arthur Blank reiterated McKay’s stance in a Feb. 16 statement: “We are focusing all of our time and resources on finalizing an agreement for the new stadium in downtown Atlanta … which is the right place for us to be.”
Reese McCranie, a spokesman for Reed, said the city would not comment on Clayton County’s interest. Atlantans will get a chance to weigh in on the stadium at a City Council hearing at 6 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall.
Clayton’s interest in the stadium evolved from conversations Turner has had over the past couple of weeks with county economic development director Grant Wainscott about possibilities for the 150 acres east of the airport, in an area known as Mountain View. The idea was further cemented after Turner said he kept getting emails and comments from Clayton residents telling him to make a bid for the stadium.
The area, which offers multiple access to I-285 and I-75, has been available for development for more than a decade but it wasn’t until the past year, when key road, sewer and water projects finally began in earnest, that county officials could really push the area. A $50 million project to widen and realign parts of Conley Road and Old Dixie Highway are under way nearby.
Landing the stadium would be an economic coup for a county where unemployment is two points higher than the metro average. Clayton also is still feeling the sting of a school accreditation scandal. Home values, like much of metro Atlanta, are still troubled.
Another legitimate suitor for the Falcons could give the team a stronger negotiating position, said Mercer University economist Roger Tutterow.
“If Clayton is offering the land for a stadium, that is for (Clayton) an attractive play, if they don’t have to put money up for the stadium,” Tutterow said.
However, virtually all modern stadium deals include public financing. If Clayton were to offer financial support, its offerings could be limited. Clayton has a fraction of metro Atlanta’s hotel rooms and it does not offer the convention and tourism business of the big city. That diminishes the viability of a key funding mechanism — charging visitors to the area a tax on their hotel rooms, which is critical for a deal putting the new stadium downtown.
“I really don’t think the offer of land will sway the deal,” Tutterow said.
Staff writers Scott Trubey, Leon Stafford and Ernie Suggs contributed to this article.