Fancy stadiums often appeal to politicians: they are prestige projects, they offer lots of publicity, promising jobs for their friends and associates, and they make construction unions very very happy. But publicly assisted stadium building is the mark of a city that has lost its way. The only development wheeze that is worse is casinos.The New York Times ran a story yesterday about the plans to build a new luxury stadium for the Atlanta Falcons just south of the existing one. The cost for the project: about a billion dollars, and the relocation of two important black churches:
“You’re going to disrupt two churches, two houses of worship and prayer, for someone to play ball?” Juanita Jones Abernathy said before a recent service. “It doesn’t make sense.”Mrs. Abernathy is the widow of the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, a close associate of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She is now a member of Friendship Baptist, whose congregants will decide in the coming weeks whether they should take a cash offer and move or stay put and push the stadium north toward a less favorable site. […]Whether it moves or not, the church is committed to providing social services to the area, said Lloyd Hawk, the chairman of the church’s board of trustees. It runs a clothing bank and a tutoring program; a 12-story apartment building for older people and a large apartment complex for the poor are nearby on church-owned land.
On its own terms, this is a pride project that Atlanta should do without. And the added fact that the stadium would move two important black churches makes this project even less appealing. The greatest need that America’s inner city residents have these days is for more social capital, and churches are easily the single most important source of this vital ingredient for community strength and economic growth. To demolish churches to build football stadiums—at great expense—is a ghastly misuse of public funds.