University President Mark Becker said activists vying for a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) to address concerns of gentrification during Turner Field’s redevelopment are barking up the wrong tree.
Becker told The Signal that members and advocates of the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition (TFCBC), who’ve protested at his office on multiple occasions, would be better off picketing the Atlanta City Council if they want to ensure the school’s revamp of the stadium doesn’t push people from their homes.
“The city of Atlanta does not have policies in place [to prevent displacement],” he said. “It’s a city government issue, not a Georgia State issue. [Activists] should be dealing with their elected representatives.”
On Nov. 10 the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents signed off on the school’s plans to overhaul the stadium. But advocates for a CBA are looking for more community oversight during the development process, as well as a contractually-obligated consciousness of housing affordability nearby, among other requests.
But the university doesn’t have total control over how the land is reimagined, he said. Georgia State will buy and refashion the Braves’ old ballpark to accommodate school athletics and academics and will maintain some parking spots just north of the stadium — the Blue Lot. The school’s development partner, Carter, will be in charge of sprucing up the surrounding property.
Still, state Sen. Vincent Fort, Atlanta’s outspoken Democrat who’s marched with those advocates, said Becker needs to be more open to conversation of the impact that Turner Field’s renovation could have on low-income families living nearby.
“When is he going to engage in real discussion with residents about possible terms of a CBA?,” Fort asked. “How does he feel about displacing African Americans and long-time residents of those Turner Field neighborhoods?”
But Becker said, for the most part, these activists are raising a stink first and asking questions later.
“They’re protesting me and making demands. They’re not asking for my help,” he said, adding that he believes 90 percent of the student body feels positive about the plans slated to redevelop The Ted for the Panthers.
Plus, Becker said, when activists ask him to lend an ear, he does. He said, noting a Nov. 4 meeting with representatives for United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), that matters of affordable housing and displacement were never brought up.
“This issue [of displacement] was never discussed, so I find it interesting that students are going out and publicly criticizing, yet the student who was criticizing at the meeting never raised the issue of displacement,” he said.
Becker said, during that 90-minute meeting, USAS members talked of property tax implications — property tax increases due to development can price people out of their homes. “That is a city policy issue,” he said.
And efforts of the TFCBC have been largely disorganized, Becker claimed, saying that neighborhood leaders from Summerhill, where Turner Field is located, have backed out of the coalition and are happy with Georgia State’s plans for the area.
“[TFCBC] hasn’t even submitted a list of demands,” he said of the group’s Community Benefits Agreement proposal. “What they have is a laundry list of the sorts of things that are included in a wide range of Community Benefits Agreements that have been implemented in other parts of the country…There is not a structured agreement.”
Some of their concerns could be addressed once the purchase and sale agreement is finalized, Becker said. But, for now, he’s legally inclined to remain mum on those details.