Home Field Advantage?

It’s game-day Sunday. Thousands of football fans flood roads, parking lots and sidewalks surrounding the stadium.  They pour into this side of town, pockets full of cash, ready to spend a little coin and enjoy their Sunday. Hundreds of stadium employees are hard at work, handling parking, security and service needs. It seems that the stadium is a bustling economic hub, an asset that a community would fight very hard to get. Unfortunately, many stadiums across America burden the communities they are built in. In the city of Atlanta, the negative externalizes (traffic, tailgating, noise) associated with game day are minimal in comparison to the economic and social issues its stadiums create. In Atlanta, plans for a new billion dollar stadium are underway, below I will discuss this project and its effort to revitalize the poverty-stricken communities neighboring it.

The Atlanta Falcons are building a new state of the art stadium next to their current stadium, the Georgia Dome. The current facility sits in between the commercial business district and the historic neighborhoods of Vine City and English Avenue. These communities are home to a struggling population ridden with crime, unemployment and abandoned infrastructure. However, on the other side of the stadium, the downtown region has flourished with development, tourism and is home to a signature skyline that is recognizable around the world. This segregation of success has created a physical and physiologic barrier that is exacerbated with the dome. One resident of Vine City describes this emotional detachment as sitting at the gate of prosperity and nothing being done about it.

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Georgia Dome and downtown Atlanta. Photo from http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/ERQ8dtc216QZkNbNMKv1mA.
(10/20/13)

The owner of the Atlanta Falcons, Arthur Blank, acknowledges the discrepancy between the two areas and will be investing $15 million to the impoverished neighboring areas. What is unique about this, is the community members will have a significant voice in how the funds will be spent.  These communities have learned their lesson about how and where to invest funds for revitalization. Past efforts to revitalize these neighborhoods have focused heavily on infrastructure, particularly affordable housing.These investments were narrow-minded and seen by many in the community as simply throwing money at the problem. New innovative ideas from community leaders about how to spend the money will shift investment to “human capital.” Programs will be designed to keep kids in school, build job skills (including business starting) and provide job training that will allow residents to compete for the 4,500 jobs associated with construction and functions of the stadium.

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Vine City with Georgia Dome in background. Photo from Wikipedia. (10/20/13)

Inclusion of the communities in the development process is crucial way to gaining local support. If residents help construct the stadium, they will feel a sense of ownership and thus, a pride in their communities. These ideas are echoed by mayor Kasim Reed. As stated in my last blog, establishing pride in a community is a very important step in the revitalization process. Additional funds will come to the area to address infrastructure and development issues, but the immediate employment boom will help the stadium be accepted as part of the community.

So, what’s not to like about the new Falcons stadium? It seems perfect in that it will create jobs, increase community involvement and bring in an estimated $450 Million per year to the state. That is all great for the city and state, but how will life on the west side of the stadium really change?  There will still be (although more aesthetically pleasing) a wall created by the stadium separating the neighborhoods from the central business district.  Building a new stadium right next to the old one will not eliminate the negative externalizes associated with stadiums, but potentially bring in larger crowds. Game-days will bring in capital, foot traffic and tailgating, but what about the other 6 days of the week and 7 months of the year? The surrounding empty parking lots will look like a sea of pavement marooning the stadium and provide zero benefits for the communities. Is this really the best way to use the land and help the community?

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Empty parking lot at Gillette Stadium in New England. Photo from flickr.com. (10/20/13)

The new stadium is coming, whether residents of Vine City and English Ave like it or not. Community leaders have done a good job of demanding new approaches to revitalize their area and are being more involved in the process. It will be interesting to see if these new approaches pay off, or if the community will continue to live in the shadows of what will be the symbol of Georgia.

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