When Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. made good on his campaign promise to build a modern sports facility that would bring a Major League Baseball team here, he fought an uphill battle. In 1964, when city leaders broke ground on the $18 million Atlanta Stadium (later named Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium), the American League had already turned the city down and the Milwaukee Braves had yet to sign on to move to Atlanta.
Critics called the stadium “Allen’s Folly,” and for a while it looked like they might be right. The stadium was finished in time for the 1965 baseball season, but the Braves move was tied up in lawsuits, and it wasn’t until the following year that the Atlanta Braves played their first regular-season game there. Allen threw out the first pitch. Thirty years later the stadium played host to the baseball competition for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games.
The stadium was a risky move for Allen, but it was a move that sealed Atlanta’s future as a major sports city — a legacy that carries over today with great professional teams and NCAA championship games.
Along similar lines, the creation of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport was met with a mountain of criticism, as was the original referendum for MARTA. Plenty of people said our leaders were nuts for attempting these projects and for asking our citizens to help pick up the tab.
But where would we be if our leaders had backed down? What would metro Atlanta be like if we hadn’t taken our chances on an airport and a public transit system?
More importantly, what will our city be like if we fail to pass the regional transportation referendum (T-SPLOST) on July 31? Our leaders face the same criticism for this bold plan as past leaders faced for their “crazy” ideas. We’d be foolish to listen.
This referendum will deliver an $8.5 billion investment for 157 infrastructure improvement and congestion relief projects for a 10-county region. It will do so in the form of a one-penny sales tax that will cost the average citizen $122 a year. That’s compared to the $924 the average Atlanta commuter spends now each year for what the Texas Transportation Institute calls the “congestion tax,” made up of wasted fuel and lost time sitting in traffic.
The project mix includes major interchange improvements, including a fix for the dreaded Interstate 285/Ga. 400 interchange, and first-ever transit developments, including the Clifton Corridor rail line. It’s the biggest transportation infrastructure improvement project our region has ever attempted and the critics are having a field day. We can and must face down those critics as we have before.
If we don’t get this passed, we are going to look back with deep regret. As other cities pass us by and attract the growing companies and workforce talent — cities like Charlotte, Denver and Salt Lake City that have already passed regional transportation sales taxes — Atlanta could cease to be a vibrant hub for business and the capital of the Southeast! Our economic growth will stall and our brand will suffer — the city that dared to embrace civil rights, that got gutsy enough to pursue Major League Baseball, had the audacity to go after the 1996 Olympic Games and the place that built the world’s busiest airport could well find itself on an irreversible downward path.
We owe it to ourselves to take another bold step to ensure a successful future. Vote YES on July 31!
Chairman, Mesa Capital Partners LLC