Residents question proposed soccer facility

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There were more questions than answers when the three commissioners who voted against the proposed Atlanta United Soccer facility held a community conversation Sept. 28.

Nearly 100 people were present when DeKalb County Commissioners Kathie Gannon, Nancy Jester and Jeff Rader hosted the public conversation about The Home Depot cofounder Arthur Blank’s proposed Atlanta United soccer facility in DeKalb.

On Aug. 4, the board of commissioners voted 4-3—with Commissioners Larry Johnson, Mereda Davis Johnson, Sharon Barnes Sutton and Stan Watson supporting the measure—to bring the facility to DeKalb.

Former District 5 commission candidate Harmel Codi said, “I am wondering, what is the likelihood of filing an injunction…to figure out what the actual costs will be for this project prior to the final contract being executed?

She continued, “What are the commitments that have been negotiated…on behalf of the community?”

Rader said “there have been some actions taken…as apparently sports actions have been taken in this region, with no public comment and with very little consultation as to whether or not the public wants their resources invested in this particular way.”

Blank’s Atlanta United FC plans to build a $30 million soccer complex at the intersection of Kensington Road and Memorial Drive near Interstate 285 in Decatur. The soccer campus will include a 3,500-seat stadium, three outdoor practice fields and a two-story corporate headquarters on land behind the DeKalb County Jail. The proposal states four additional fields and an indoor training facility could be built later.

Atlanta United is expected to employ approximately 83 people in its corporate headquarters in 2017. That number is predicted to grow to 123 people in 2018 with salaries that average $150,000 per year, according to the memorandum of understanding proposal. Approximately 123 construction-related jobs will be created with 10 percent of the jobs going to DeKalb residents.

“The decision was made with very little consideration of some of the weaknesses and defects of the actual memorandum of understanding or deal structure,” Rader said.

That memorandum of understanding, which Rader said commissioners received two business days before the vote, “raised a myriad…of questions which we tried to get answered.”

That attempt was unsuccessful, he said.

“We…need to know from you what you would like to see come out of it and how you would propose that we continue to protect the public’s interest as we make this investment,” Rader said.

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Residents and the three commissioners complained that there will be no financial benefit to the county’s coffers.

“I would like one good solid example of how this will help my constituents,” Gannon said. “I have not been able to get that answered yet, but I am going to continue to ask that question.”

“It’s not a revenue generator. It is just a practice facility,” Jester said. “It’s cash out of the general fund to move all of the departments that need to get moved off these 41 acres. And it’s cash out of the general fund to do site work and it’s cash out of the general fund to pay $7 million for parks and recreation department to be located in that facility.”

“At no point in time is there any revenue generated,” Jester said. “That’s a problem.”

Iris Darden said she because she is on a limited income and has a disabled husband, she won’t be able to afford any tax increase associated with the proposed facility.

“Money is going out of the county, but we can’t even get a pothole filled,” Darden said.

Darden said she is not opposed to the soccer facility. “I’m for it for healthy purposes, but I’m against it when it comes to my tax dollars,” she said.

Robert Glover said he has read the memorandum of understanding three times.

“There are things that are not in there—a cost statement,” Glover said. “When you’re starting a project of this magnitude, you always run a cost analysis. The cost analysis looks at [the] cost to start [and the] cost to maintain.

“Also there is not a study that looks at the financial impact of this area,” he said. “How will all this get funded? That is not in these 18 pages, either. Bonds might have to be put up. That’s not in here either.”

Jeff Wiggs, president of the DeKalb Fraternal Order of Police, said “millions and millions of dollars of equipment” will have to be relocated to make way for the proposed soccer facility.

“For the commissioners that voted ‘yes’ for this, and the CEO, hopefully you’ll be brave enough to say…we should have done a little bit more homework, admit your wrongs and let’s stop this,” Wiggs said. “This is crazy.”

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James Tsismanakis, executive director and CEO, of Discover DeKalb, said the proposed facility “helps to give us the credibility for soccer.”

“We already are working on a lot more soccer tournaments,” Tsismanakis said, adding that Discover DeKalb is already using the proposed facility, “the home of the Atlanta United, the home of the training facility, in our marketing and promotions.”

“It gives us the credibility to go after more events,” he said.

Having the Atlanta United facility along with the Chamblee-based Georgia Soccer Association and Doraville-based Silverbacks soccer stadium “can actually propel DeKalb to being the epicenter for soccer in Georgia,” Tsismanakis said.

“With more tournaments then we really generate heads in beds—people staying in hotels, eating at our restaurants [and] shopping,” he said.

“The plan of course hopefully is it will develop Memorial Drive. We really don’t know if it will, but with more people coming into town, that means more money being generated,” Tsismanakis said.

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