A Stadium, A Promise Or Both?

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Last month in Atlanta, it was announced that Mercedes Benz had purchased the naming rights to the new football stadium which will replace the 23-year-old Georgia Dome in 2017.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the naming agreement was its length of term. It will expire in 2042. If recent history is a guide, that will be about the time that the stadium — despite this cool fly-through — will be imploded. Washington Redskins’ owner Daniel Snyder is, in fact, talking about a new stadium even though FedEx Field just turned 18.

Maybe I shouldn’t pick on Atlanta, because as Richard Florida notes, it could just as well be Dallas or Minneapolis or Buffalo or Cleveland or the Bay Area.

But there is something special about taxpayers footing $600 million in the construction of this new stadium for the mighty Atlanta Falcons, a team that has won 44 percent of its games all-time and has such a notable “Ring of Honor” with the likes of Steve Bartkowski, William Andrews, Gerald Riggs, Jeff Van Note, Jessie Tuggle, Tommy Nobis, Mike Kenn, Claude Humphrey and Deion Sanders. Let’s call them “Neon and the Eight Who’s?”

Yes, $600 million… for a stadium that will likely last 25 years. What is a building’s legacy once it is demolished? Memories?

Is it possible to use this opportunity to float an idea that would truly leave a lasting legacy?

The person getting the most from the taxpayers’ $600 million is Falcons’ owner Arthur Blank, the Home Depot co-founder who is worth about $3 billion. He has also founded the Atlanta United FC soccer team, which will use the Mercedes-Benz Stadium until its inevitable demise.

The 72-year-old Blank signed the “Giving Pledge” in 2012, thus committing to give away at least half of his fortune someday.

Here’s a start. If he developed a city-wide Atlanta Promise program, beginning in 2017, which — in combination with federal financial aid — made college affordable at in-state institutions for every city high school graduate with a 2.5 grade-point average, it would take more than 25 years to spend $500 million (which is less than 20 percent of Blank’s assets).

It’s pretty simple — changing an academic culture by incentivizing and investing in its people would provide a double benefit for the city and the Falcons. After all, a Promise program could substantially increase the number of residents who could afford a visit to the stadium.

No, Not A Pet Project

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One of the exciting developments in the Promise movement in 2014 was the establishment of the Richmond Promise in California’s Bay Area, which was announced in August.

The man credited with its founding was city council member Jael Myrick, who negotiated the package with Chevron Richmond as part of the Richmond Refinery Modernization Project. While the funding has yet to begin to flow, students in the city will soon have college options previously unavailable.

Myrick was one of six local officials to fly across the country in November to attend PromiseNet 2014 in New Haven, Conn., and admitted afterward that the delegation learned so much that they’d need some time to decompress and assess.

Since then, Myrick — who is not yet 30 — has been named the vice mayor of the City of Richmond for 2015. His closest council ally on the Richmond Promise project was Tom Butt, who is now the mayor. Expect a lot of movement with the Promise in 2015.

Myrick — pictured at left above with Von Washington of the Kalamazoo Promise at the Yale University Art Gallery in November — recently posted a suggestion regarding the initiative to his Facebook page:

The next person who refers to the Richmond Promise as a “pet project” has to come with me to Kennedy High (better yet Gompers) and give their Bachelor’s Degree to a deserving but struggling High School Senior, quit their job and then go online to find a new job with no degree or certification.

Yes, the commitment stands.