Domeward Bound No More

UPDATE: Legendary Lincoln County football coach Larry Campbell announced his retirement this week, which made the posting of this report and video timely, as Campbell and the Red Devils made the Georgia Dome their second home. Since this report and video were produced in the summer of 2013, there has been a $50 million publicly-funded parking deck added to the Falcons’ new stadium project, a $200 million change for HVAC (Augusta Tee Center readers will snicker at that.), and the land acquisition price soared.

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Nothing is loved in Lincolnton, Georgia more than its Red Devils football team. 14 state championships in the small school classification. Georgia’s winningest coach in Larry Campbell. More times than any other school as state runners-up. So many trips to the Georgia Dome to play in state play-offs that there is a slogan that rises every year here – “We are Dome-ward Bound.” 8 times would tend to do that for doting fans. They look for greatness under the Georgia Dome, but sadly those quests won’t be the same thanks to the work of another crew of devils, the Legislature that frolics under the Gold Dome.

At the end of a not-distant season, the Red Devils won’t be Dome-ward bound, for the legislature decided to bequeath $1.2 billion (over the next 35 years) of public funds dedicated to the Dome to Arthur Blank, the 90% owner of the Atlanta Falcons Football team, in the form of a new stadium to be leased and operated by the Falcons. The stadium costs are put at more than a billion dollars, but with all of the likely cost overruns probably will exceed Blank’s $1.6 billion net worth (just this month upped to $1.7 billion) by the time the new retractable-roofed stadium is completed.

Dastardly deeds that small town folk cannot really understand underpin the arrangement. After receiving Blank’s hefty campaign donations in recent years, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle killed a key conservative right to work bill that stood in the way. There was a failure to account for the damage that losing $19 million in hotel tax funding and $15 million in profits does to Georgia World Congress Center’s finances. Then World Congress’ own consultant suggested claw-back terms or profit sharing with the public in case 90% owner Blank sells the team with its $1.6 billion stadium lease, but it isn’t in the final agreement, which contains a provision only that the Falcon’s cannot relocate without a penalty.

The legislature under the gold dome OK’d renewing the hotel-motel tax and using it to build a new stadium in 2011, but after 73% of Georgians arose in opposition, Governor Nathan Deal took negotiation of the final sell-out to the Falcons behind closed doors. Then it came to rest in the hands of Atlanta Mayor Kassim Reed, who rammed the agreement through a pliant City Council.
The Falcons and their supporters loudly claim that the team will be paying $800 million and the public only $200 million. Reed emerged with the final agreement and a press release saying that the public funds are “capped at $200 million,” but when if you read the legal documents, the terms said the funding will start at $200 million. Worse than that, analysis of various consultant reports puts public stadium funding at nearly $700 million, with several Hundred $millions more in operations costs funded by hotel motel tax once the stadium is built. The real numbers look like they are the reverse of what the Falcons’ claimed.

The Georgia Dome that the Lincoln County Red Devils played in is property of the state. 60% of dome use was not for the Falcons. The state was making $15 million a year while hosting high school, SEC, and NCAA football. Concerns were expressed in negotiations that such events might be be “not on economic Terms” after the Falcons take over operations of the new stadium. After all, they expect that ticket prices will increase 20% and that food and beverage prices will go up 44% to nearly $18 per seat. Can small town fans afford that? The costs are going to be so high that Mayor Reed’s final deal provides public assistance of $3.5 million a year, with automatic 2% increases, for a total of $184 million to “Stage Other Events.” “Other events according to the legalese are non-Falcon events, like Red Devil playoff games and all of the other ones that our Dome’s profits used to provide for.

The San Francisco 49ers sold naming rights to their new stadium for $220 million. Georgia and Atlanta gave their naming rights up to the Falcons at no charge in the deal.

When this correspondent posed a list of questions to World Congress before the revised deal was public, they refused to answer. The Atlanta Journal Constitution, where Blank sits on the board of directors, has been silent on nearly all of these things. Oh, and don’t expect to hold Nathan Deal or World Congress’ Frank Poe to accountable. They will be retired before the damage is known.

In news breaking in June, the World Congress Center just approved this design, which USA Today Sports calls CRAZY, writing “Will this thing actually get built?”

Despite these questions, huge costs, and conflicts, it appears likely that a perfectly good Georgia Dome will fall to the wrecking ball to yield to the Falcons new rookery. The public and the Red Devils will find their sell-outs under an intact gold dome across town, with the only dome-ward bound being lobbyists looking for ever larger Blank checks.

    OPINION

Dear Arthur, Tipped Balls Hurt

Originally posted March 12, 2013

Are the Falcons underestimating the Atlanta City Council?

By Al Gray

As University of Georgia grads know, an untimely tipped ball tantalizingly close to the goal line can kill championship dreams. The Atlanta Falcons have executed a well-orchestrated plan over the last two years to carefully plan and execute the win of a free $1.2 billion new stadium. Now the weakened opposition is down to an unlikely, untested, last line of defense called the Atlanta City Council. Its members were spectators suddenly called into a game with no advance preparation. Only a disaster can stop the Falcons now. Surely a bunch of city council members can’t muster anything heroic. Everything has been so perfectly played that half of the backfield has been cloaked with invisibility.

Political maneuvers bail out GWCCA, get Falcons to first and goal

Moments after the opening whistle in 2010, the Georgia World Congress Center contingent on the team realized that they had a huge problem. If they fully surrendered stadium operations to the Falcons, not only would GWCCA be giving up $20 million a year in hotel motel tax funding (Consultants’ numbers lead to totals of $1.2 billion over 35 years), it would be giving away $15 million a year in net income on a successful Georgia Dome operation. If someone only looked at the financials there could be trouble. A worse problem was the $2 million to $3 million in GWCCA overhead that the Georgia Dome has been absorbing for years. Then someone realized that money is fungible and that the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau (ACV partnership with GWCCA could be used as a conduit to shift costs equivalent to those then covered by dome operations. In 2011 the team got a new 1% hotel motel tax passed worth $6 million a year to expand the ACVB’s marketing of events in the World Congress Center and elsewhere. About $4 million of the new tax appears on the GWCCA’s 2012 FY financial statements. That might have tipped some people off, so GWCCA’s Frank Poe proclaimed, truthfully enough, that the new tax was not going toward stadium construction. The contract between ACVB and GWCCA was modified in 2011 uneventfully. The cost shift will be a handy tool.

The series of plays in the General Assembly enabling the Falcons takeover extended the hotel motel tax and, just last week, killed a conservative bill strengthening right to work laws that would threaten the “community investment” now needed to have any chance at victory in Council chambers.

Another saving grace in the potential damage to GWCCA’s finances is that Georgia governor Nathan Deal, who has had a major role in the stadium negotiations, and GWCCA’s Frank Poe, now 62, will probably be retired before the harm to GWCCA becomes known in 2018. $15 million Dome annual net income contributions might be too great a loss to overcome, necessitating a state bailout.

On first down –

Tipped Ball  #1 – Public costs are not capped at the $200 million advertised according to City’s and GWCCA’s own documents that are posted online.

The Falcons negotiators, gold dome allies, and GWCCA facilitators have stayed remarkably on message that public funds are only $200 million, while the Falcons will be paying $800 million of construction costs. When the deal with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed was announced on Thursday, March 7, the press release said “The public contribution for stadium construction is capped at $200 million.” Maybe the Mayor thinks the council won’t mind that the legal summary says

 “Budget/Contributions: Estimated $948 million, comprised of….. Public Contribution: $200 million net proceeds of the HMT Revenue Bonds”

The legalese says the $200 million is an estimate, not a cap and puts stadium borrowings on the same funding stream that a Citi consultant projected would produce bond proceeds of $360 million. Even more critical is that those funding assumptions are terribly conservative, given the extraordinarily lower interest rates are available to Atlanta than the 4.15% rates used  and that Hotel-Motel tax revenues are currently up 7.49% over last year.

Second Down –

Tipped Ball  #2 –  No one is explaining a $612 million cash gap in Hotel Motel tax funds ($211 on a debt funding basis) over the “$200 million cap” and fully funded O-M accounts (which are being ignored as a public contribution)

A key Citi presentation of June 2011, secured by agraynation.com, was integral to the planning of the stadium agreement. This agreement used the 2.7% annual growth rate in H-M tax revenues and it showed the debt service required at then-existent rates for $360 million in debt. If the debt is reduced to $200 million, where debt is to be “capped,” it leaves $612 million in cash outlays unaccounted for, or $210 million in estimated bonding potential. These public funds are being pretended out of existence.

The legal summarycontains this bombshell about the extra funds: “City would agree that all HMT revenues not required under the Funding Agreement to provide for the payment in full of the HMT Revenue Bonds (including appropriate reserves) shall be deposited with a separate GWCCA HMT Fund Custodian, where such funds shall be applied to pay for any costs relating to the construction and operation of the NSP, as provided in the HMT law.”  In other words, excess funds can go into stadium construction that are over and above the $200 million cap.

 Third Down –

Tipped Ball  #3 –  The $186 million that the Atlanta agreement puts into “other event staging” through FY 2051 is to make up for the much, much higher costs the Falcons plan on charging as stadium managers than GWCCA did, isn’t it?

This one might tip off the public and Atlanta City Council thatStadCo will be responsible for the cost (to be identified) of providing its staff and other support that historically has been provided by GWCCAThey might awaken to the fact that Falcons costs as stadium manager are required to be built into all GWCCA events, GWCCA legacy events and Atlanta hosted events – events that now account for nearly 60% of Dome attendance! There are indications that Dome legacy events might be “not on economic terms” after the Falcons take over. Having to allocate $186 million to “other event staging” to make the existing venues and events viable reveals a controversial truth about the contract – the GWCCA won’t be staffing the stadium and will have to pay the Falcon’s cost structure, which may be considerably higher. (GWCCA’s consultant having already predicted 20% (after tax) ticket price increases and 44% concession price increases) Having to inject $186 million to make your own events “economic” after the Falcons take over isn’t a surprise to Atlantans?

Fourth down, Arthur, but don’t sweat it –

Tipped Ball #4 The Falcons only agree to pay that which the public contribution cannot be “maximized” to cover, not $700 or $800 million.

The Atlanta agreement says,All NSP costs in excess of the Public Contribution to be paid by StadCo” (the Falcons). Worse it says this about handling of funds when the bonds are sold in August 2013: “Invest Atlanta shall issue the Hotel Motel Tax (“HMT”) Revenue Bonds and StadCo shall establish an account into which its contribution will be deposited. ” This doesn’t even set an amount or a requirement that any money be deposited by the Falcons, only that an account be established! Beyond this, crafty lawyers restricted Falcon responsibility to “NSP Costs” which are established by a maximum price. The trouble with this is that an increase in the “maximum price” (which can change throughout the project) is not necessarily a change order for which the Falcons are responsible.

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Expect the great Falcons special stadium team to pick up the tipped ball and run in for the score. The officials will push the ball carrier across the goal line. “Whatever it takes” is the Georgia and Atlanta politicians’ motto.

After the victory is scored, the Falcons can proceed into the construction phase of revenue enhancement, where the next $50 million to $100 million in public funds lay waiting.

Why not make the full agreement open for public scrutiny instead of just the legal summary? Why not make this process easier on all concerned and just ante up another $250 million that is perfectly justifiable under sound strategic planning and will make this project palatable to the public?

Another $250 million from the Falcons remains a bargain, Arthur.

 

-AG

 

Update: The Atlanta City Council has since voted to approve the Flcon’s New Stadium Project

Point Blank Video: The Art of a Finely Feathered Nest?

Originally posted March 7, 2013

Point Blank on agraynation.com is an irreverent point of view at events in and around the state of Georgia, including Augusta, Atlanta and the public policy meaning of it all to a perhaps-slightly-addled refugee of the late, great American middle class.

Today, in Point Blank, the topic for consideration is the haste with which the Georgia World Congress Center Authority and the City of Atlanta look to be pursuing a bad deal for the taxpayer.

 

The Falcons Rookery Project

Falcon’s Rookery Project

Originally posted March 7, 2012 at 12:05AM

by Al Gray

Over the last 2 years the Georgia World Congress Center Authority and the Atlanta Falcons Management have negotiated a Term Sheet for the construction and operations of a new stadium whereby the WWC relinquishes its 39.3% hotel motel tax funding stream, management of the stadium, and the Georgia Dome, which is to be demolished.

Agraynation.com saw this $1.2 billion transaction as an opportunity to kill 3 birds with one stone:

The first objective was Public Service for the City of Atlanta, who was handed this project after it grew too hot for the State Legislature to handle, in evaluating the Terms.

A second goal was demonstration of the Aurelius Principle employing a multidisciplinary approach which uses the other party to a transaction’s own documents to present a counterargument.

Evaluation of the Falcon’s Claim that the team was spending $700 million to the public’s $200 million.

This site compiled a restatement of the sources and uses of funds for the project after securing a key document that was missing from the GWCCA’s stadium development web page.

The detailed report, which features link to the source GWCCA documents and consultant reports was posted on the Agraynation.com site for inspection.

The Conclusion? The Falcons might spend nothing for the $1.2 billion stadium because the H/M tax stream, would exceed $1.2 billion over 35 years and could be borrowed against for as much as $650 million. (Key omission is out-year revenue stream, as alluded to by Atlanta Business Writer Maria Saporta and AJC columnist Tim Tucker.) Seats rights that GWCCA is giving up pitch in another $150 million to $200 million, and other revenues ceded by Atlanta and Georgia make up the rest.

Coming up –

In POINT BLANK, we take an irreverent look at the benefits to Falcon owner Arthur Blank’s net worth, followed by

A Well-Orchestrated Trick Play? – a look at how the GWCCA seems covered against an otherwise suicidal Term Sheet that they agreed to.

Legal Twigs in a Falcon Nest – a look at Term Sheet Trick Plays and ways to shift costs to the public

Finally – White Flag Negotiators Serve Whom?

Agraynation.com – A public service site brought to you by Cost Recovery Works.com, where the Aurelius Principle now serves clients, after 30 years in development and implementation at ever-higher levels of business and government.

Falcons’ Rookery Nearly Perfected?

Birds’ offense scores a $1.17 Billion Stadium for Free, GWCCA gets a Safety, Deal Hangs on a Thin Reed

By Al Gray

February 25, 2013

 

Dear Arthur Blank:

Contracts, commonly dismissed as mere tools, can become art forms. Under your Picasso-like direction, the Falcons’ negotiators of terms to build a new stadium with the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCCA) had delivered the workings of a masterpiece. The deal exhibited the key elements of the art form in carefully extracting more profits than the other parties would ever recognize without help. The agreement approached genius in getting the GWCCA to make it so lucrative. Now that plan has been punted over to Atlanta’s Mayor Kasim Reed by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal. Can you still pull this off? Absolutely!

The situation is perfect, too. The World Congress Center owns the existing Georgia Dome, where your Atlanta Falcons have contracted to play through 2017. With that lease expiring, the Congress Center and city are anxious about the future of their complex. Insuring that the Falcons stay downtown is of paramount importance to the politicians.

A key Citi presentation obtained by agraynation.com completes a trail of cost estimates and studies posted by GWCCA that show that the Falcons may have to pay $43 million or less for the $1.17 billion stadium.

Please forgive the brashness in barging into your team of artisans. This author was initially seeking to provide pro bono services to the Atlanta City Council and the State of Georgia, but multidisciplinary techniques grounded in documents can assess either side of a major transaction like this one. The evidence has been gathered and in this instance has shown how masterful the Falcons’ team has been in negotiations! Here is the scorecard on their effectiveness.

Hyperlinks appear in blue to the supporting documents.

Sources of Funds

Description

Amount

Debt Funded by GWCCA Contribution of Hotel/Motel Tax & Seats Rights

 

State/local Bond Proceeds from Hotel/Motel tax in Initial Years*

$359,985,041.00

State/local Debt backed by GWCCA Seats Rights Contribution, primarily Private Seat Licenses.

$150,000,000.00

State/local Funding from Leveraging Excess Hotel/Motel tax into Subordinated Debt (If not used for financing, as much as a nominal estimated $246 million is designated by the Term Sheet for stadium maintenance and future improvements)

$178,271,016.90

Total GWCCA Contribution

$688,256,057.90

 

 

State and City Funds

 

Sales Tax Rebate on Construction Materials

$30,000,000.00

Land**

$24,500,000.00

Atlanta Infrastructure Costs

$53,000,000.00

Total State of Georgia and City of Atlanta Contributions

$107,500,000.00

 

 

Enterprise Debt/Equity supported by Revenues Ceded by GWCCA

 

New Debt backed by Stadium Naming Rights surrendered by GWCCA to Falcons, over the first 20 years reduced to present value

                    $73,324,149.00

New Equity backed by Food and Beverage Rights donated by GWCCA to Falcons, over the first 20 years reduced to present value

                      $55,579,705.00

Total Funds from GWCCA Contract Rights Ceded to Falcons

$128,903,854.00

Public-sourced Funds Total

$924,659,911.90

 

 

NFL G-4 Funds Program

 

Advance from NFL

$100,000,000.00

Grant from NFL

$50,000,000.00

NFL Loan

$50,000,000.00

Total Funds from NFL G-4 Program

$200,000,000.00

 

 

Funds to be provided by Falcons out of current finances and operations

 

Falcon’s Funding to meet Estimated Project and Financial Costs

$43,017,265.10

Total Funds from Existing Falcons’ Operations

$43,017,265.10

Private-sourced Funds Total

$243,017,265.10

 

 

Total Sources of Funds

$1,167,677,177.00

 

Uses of Funds

Description

Amount

Total Construction, Site and Land Costs*

$1,032,000,000.00

Retirement of Georgia Dome Debt*

$60,000,000.00

Atlanta Infrastructure Costs

$53,000,000.00

Debt Service Retirement Account, Cost of Issuance, Underwriters’ Fees*

$22,677,177.00

 

 

Total Uses of Funds

$1,167,677,177.00

 

*The total funds shown on the Citi presentation, $359,985,041.00, less Dome debt retirement of $60,000,000.00 and Debt costs of $22,677,177.00 ties to the $277,307,864.00 shown on the BSG Sept. 2012 report (cites the Citi report) containing the $1,032,000,000.00 total funding and cost figure.

** Land is not shown as a Use of Funds item, as it is included in the $1,032,000,000 project cost total.

Of course this is just one opinion, although one has to believe the negotiating team will find the documents most familiar. It can be imagined here that they would find some holes to shoot in this analysis, but there are more supporting arguments for it than can be recited here.  It would be a boat-load of fun to participate in a city council meeting for a debate over the basic concepts.

On Wednesday February 20, the Falcons and GWCCA artisans of this transaction were heard before the Atlanta City Council saying that the football club was funding “$500 million to $700 million” of the new stadium project and that the public would be pitching in $200 million. That PR seemed to be working pretty well for enough of the Council to be willing to pass the new arrangements, whatever those may be. The Council seemed resigned that this is a “done deal.” Atlanta should get a better deal – to the tune of $250 to $400 million – but will it?

From this vantage point in the pine woods of east central Georgia, it looks like the Falcons are well on their way to getting $1.12 billion from the public and the NFL. All that is left is for your football club to come up with the other $43 million. Thanks to the lawyers and certain “options” in the Term Sheet, last minute funding “waterfall” diversions, and looseness of the scope between what the Falcons are providing and the public is furnishing, massaging at least another $43 million should be a cakewalk. Getting a $1.17 billion stadium for free should top anyone’s business career!

Getting this agreement, or a similar one, signed, sealed and delivered is job one. Once that is done, the Falcons Special Teams in Program Management can take to the field and shift another $100 million or more in costs over to Atlanta. Hire a savvy program director who knows how to play this game with the same gutsy aplomb which the Term Sheet negotiators used playing theirs. Winning coaches have winning strategies from start to finish. Winning projects do much the same.

After the stadium is built, more $hundreds of millions can flow from operations and costs shifts. Those opportunities are another article for another day.

Vigilance builds victory. The Falcons have been vigilant. Any owner would be proud.

 

-AG

Originally posted February 25, 2012 at 10:40 PM

 

The author is President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc. a firm focused on delivering superior returns for clients undertaking major projects including local governments searching for cost recovery in large construction, maintenance, entertainment venue, and other large contracted efforts. Clients and employers have included 9 Fortune 500 Companies, with 5 more served under subcontracts. Mr. Gray has been working on a pro bono basis for the Augusta, Georgia Commission since January 2012 in a comeback effort from early retirement, finding that stresses on local governments foster growing prospects for multidisciplinary cost recovery approaches. A foray into public policy is an opportunity to further multiple objectives, including public service.