For much of the last month, I’ve produced a steady drumbeat of stories about the project to build a new football stadium. The story — and the project — is intriguing. It seemed audacious to suggest the Georgia Dome was obsolete. I’ve been in Atlanta 27 years, and went to a couple of Falcons games at Atlanta-Fulton County stadium. The Georgia Dome still seems “new” to me.
Once you get past that, and once you accept that Falcons owner Arthur Blank is talking seriously about building his own open-air stadium in the suburbs if the state doesn’t help him replace the Dome (and many think Blank is bluffing), then the arguments to not not build the project become compelling.
- If the Falcons leave, the Dome loses its biggest tenant and much of its revenue stream;
- The stadium is an essential selling point for the Georgia World Congress Center, one of the world’s premier convention facilities;
- Conventions — including stadium events — are the lifeblood of Atlanta’s tourism business, a huge moneymaker;
- Blank wants to contribute $700 million to the project, giving the state and the Falcons a billion dollar stadium in exchange for a $300 million tax contribution, plus the cost of city infrastructure improvements;
- If Blank builds another stadium, it would essentially become a competitor to the Dome;
- The Dome without an NFL franchise quickly becomes the Astrodome, an aging and pathetic white elephant hosting tractor pulls and motocross, while requiring gobs of state money for upkeep.
This mostly puts aside the politics of contributing hotel-motel tax money. The hotel-motel tax, paid by visitors to Atlanta, is specifically dedicated to the World Congress Center and a few other entities. Yet it’s still tax money. The legislature could pass a bill to put it in the state’s general fund and spend it on transportation, teacher salaries or something else.
Two days before Gov. Deal asked the Falcons to reshape its proposal– asking to reduce the hotel-motel tax contribution to the project from $300 million to $200 million — 11Alive conducted a poll on the stadium question. The response arguably shifted the debate, showing less public opposition to the project than suggested by previous polls.
An 11Alive poll conducted in February 2012 showed 74% of Georgians opposed public funding for a new stadium. The survey generically asked about “using tax dollars to pay for a portion” of the project.
A Cox poll conducted of “metro Atlanta residents” in December asks “do you favor hotel/motel tax providing $300 million our of (sic) $1.1 billion in funding?” There was a similar Cox poll in January (though it’s apparently impossible to find the actual poll data in AJC and WSB stories). Both put opposition at 67 – 73 percent.
The 11Alive News poll question, which I wrote, actually explained the hotel-motel tax, saying “the hotel-motel tax is collected from visitors to Atlanta paying for hotel rooms, and was used to build the Georgia Dome.” It lacked snappy brevity, I’ll admit.
Countless people had told me they didn’t understand the funding for the stadium. They assumed the stadium project would compete, in the traditional sense, for funding for other state programs. Neutral lawmakers and backers of the project likewise griped that plain folks didn’t understand the funding scheme.
So I changed the question, sacrificing brevity for a bit of context. The results showed strong opposition, but that it settled closer to 50-50 than 70-30.
Some commenters on Peach Pundit suggested that I’d skewed the question to bump the approval rating. I would argue that we changed the question to account for Georgians’ well-known anti-tax tendencies, and to see if the type of tax involved actually matters. Though there’s much truth to the argument that a tax is a tax is a tax, the respondents in our poll had ample opportunity to apply that position to the more-contextual question.
Until this poll, I’d been among the many reporters who routinely characterized the stadium project as being wildly unpopular among voters. Now I’ll have to find a more contextual phrase to describe it.
It’s my own damned fault.