Atlanta Goes High With Hawks Deal

November 5
5:29 AM 2016

The city of Atlanta's deal with the Atlanta Hawks to refurbish Philips Arena is more than just a pact to keep the NBA franchise downtown. It means the region is tripling down on pro sports stadiums as drivers of economic development.

Added to previous pacts with the Braves and Falcons, the Hawks agreement pushes the total upfront, taxpayer-backed funding on new or refurbished venues to about $700 million. That will likely double over the next 30 years, as interest, maintenance and other costs figure in.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Hawks lead owner Tony Ressler said the Philips overhaul, with $142.5 million in public backing, could help fuel revitalization of the moribund stretch of downtown parking lots and rail beds known as The Gulch.

Reed, Cobb leaders and other proponents argue the deals are sound investments. They say the new and upgraded facilities landed premier events - such as a future Super Bowl and NCAA Men's Final Four tournament at the Falcons' new Mercedes-Benz Stadium - and make the region more competitive with peers.

Reed hopes the Philips rehab will spur private investment in the nearby Gulch. He said one group is interested in building a tower over Five Points, at the other end of the Gulch, and that other potential investors need to see the city demonstrate plans to retain and grow downtown foot traffic.

Hawks CEO Steve Koonin called it "grossly unfair" for the Philips deal to be lumped with the Falcons and Braves stadium deals, as it is smaller and involves refurbishment of a government-owned arena.

Millions more in subsidies have been committed to the Hawks and Atlanta United FC soccer team to build training centers in Brookhaven and Marietta, respectively. Gwinnett County heavily subsidized the $64 million Coolray Field for the Braves AAA-affiliate, where attendance projections and promises of development haven't fully panned out.

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