In his last State of the City address before facing an election in November, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed compared the effort to build a proposed new downtown stadium for the Atlanta Falcons to other historic milestones from Atlanta’s past — building Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, honoring Martin Luther King Jr., creating MARTA and competing for the 1996 Olympic Games.
Reed said each of those initiatives were “the right decision, at the right time.” A strong supporter of the plan to build a new $1 billion retractable-roof stadium in Atlanta, he urged hundreds of business and political leaders gathered at a downtown hotel to embrace cooperation over conflict.
“The City Council is going to be having a hard, open, honest conversation about the Falcons stadium,” Reed said. “My request is that Atlanta and our region always be in the posture of choosing the future. As we have this robust conversation, let’s do it with the best of us on display. We can make the right decision at the right time.”
Wednesday afternoon, the Falcons, Georgia World Congress Center Authority, Reed’s staffers and the city’s economic development agency were scheduled to speak about the stadium plan at a City Hall hearing. It was a rare public presentation by the key players.
Reed said a collaborative approach had helped the city achieve financial savings through pension reform. While that was seen as a controversial step among many city employees, Reed has said that he was proud of pushing for the reform without bashing the city’s labor force.
A relaxed Reed toyed with recent speculation that he would join the Obama administration or pursue another government position.
“As you may know, the President of the United States is going to be here tomorrow. I wanted you to be the first to know, after a great deal of reflection and thought” — Reed then hesitated as the room grew quiet — “I have decided to offer myself for reelection as mayor!”
The audience broke out in laughter and applause.
“You see that? I got you!” Reed said. “That was fun.”
Reed said that within two months, he would offer a proposal to give raises to every city employee “one way or another.”
He also promised to connect every Atlanta public school to a central video command center to give first responders crucial information in the event of a school shooting. “It makes perfect sense,” Reed said. “It is not that expensive. It is a cost we can bear.”
The city must soon also bear the cost of repairing some of its fraying infrastructure, Reed said. Atlanta has roughly a $920 million backlog in repairs to roads, tunnels, bridges and sidewalks, according to one study.
“We have to move out of a posture of mere survival,” Reed said. “We have to make critical investments right here, right now. We have never really developed a plan as a city … to deal with these needs. If we leave a problem unattended … it could easily balloon to $1.3 billion, $1.5 billion or $2 billion. At that point, we wouldn’t really have a solution for it.”
Reed said a $250 million investment is coming, a step that could solve about a third of the problem.
“The other two-thirds, well, someone else will have the job we will have started,” Reed said. “In so many tough issues, the city doesn’t really have the capacity to solve them (all).”
Reed said he had worked “tirelessly” with Gov. Nathan Deal to secure regulatory approvals and funding for the deepening of the Port of Savannah, a project that would open the port to the world’s largest cargo container ships.
“When we walk into offices in Washington, people literally knock over their coffee trying to understand why a Democratic mayor and Republican governor are coming to visit them,” Reed said. “It is a combination that works, folks. It shows what you can do when you put aside what you don’t agree on and work hard on the things you do agree on.
“The city of Atlanta is going to be the logistics hub of the Western hemisphere when I’m done.”