Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed gave a full-throated defense of the need and cost for a lavish pedestrian bridge to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in a four-page press release issued Wednesday.
The press release, issued two weeks after an Atlanta Journal-Constitution story revealed the bridge’s budget is nearly double what had previously been disclosed to the public, chided critics who say the $23.2 million price tag is too much.
Reed also said in the press release that voters’ approval last November of expanding MARTA “validated the decisions my administration has made to improve transportation and pedestrian landscapes all over the city.”
“The new bridge over Northside Drive linking Westside neighborhoods to downtown Atlanta is a major example of an essential infrastructure piece that will improve – and possibly save – residents’ lives,” the release says.
It’s unclear why it took two weeks for the mayor’s office to issue a press release in response to the AJC’s story.
Reed’s administration asked the Atlanta City Council to approve $12.8 million for the bridge in July, and told members that the bridge was not for the stadium. It was actually requested by Vine City residents as part of a negotiation for community improvements to be made in conjunction with stadium construction, administration officials said.
The AJC story revealed that just weeks after asking for the money, Reed and Public Works Commissioner Richard Mendoza put their signatures on a contract for bridge construction that included a budget of $22.3 million. None of the city council members contacted by the AJC in December were aware of the budget or the potential for an 81-percent increase in cost.
The AJC report also found no evidence to back up the administration’s claim that the bridge was for Vine City residents. The administration’s solicitation for bids on the project, the original funding resolution submitted to city council, and a study of the bridge’s impact all mention it in relation to the stadium and not surrounding neighborhoods.
And multiple sources who were integral to negotiating the community improvements said the bridge never entered those discussions.
“The bridge has nothing to do with the community, and to say that it does shows contempt for the community and a flagrant disregard for the truth,” Rev. Anthony A.W. Motley told the AJC.
Georgia Sen. Vincent Fort, a mayoral candidate and Reed critic who has spoken out against the bridge, said the idea that the MARTA vote validated the bridge is an “insult to voters of Atlanta.”
“The bridge is a subsidy for a billionaire’s playground, nothing more and nothing less,” Fort said, referring to Falcons owner Arthur Blank. “The statement just shows how far City Hall has lost its way.”
The press release reiterates a point made in the story — that the final cost of the bridge is unknown and any additional funding above what has already been approved will have go back to the city council for a vote. But it defended the bridge spending and listed 23 other projects intended to benefit Westside neighborhoods.
“The money we propose to spend on the bridge will be well within reason when you consider the ecosystem of positive change being engineered on the Westside,” it says. “I believe that we have an obligation to build an architectural statement that represents the legacy of these working-class communities which mean so much to our city.
“Beauty ought to matter. We get one chance to do this right. If we choose to add the amenities that guarantee a truly iconic structure, we will make our case for the additional funds to the city council, openly and transparently.”