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Our Views: A greener pasture
If Falcons want a new stadium to rake in more money, they can build it themselves
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During difficult economic times, each of us — individuals, families, businesses and governments — learn to separate needs from wants.

We need food, shelter and clothing. We need police, fire and trash pickup. But that nice new iPod or maybe a new park may have to wait until times are better.

If we can agree on this, then someone needs to let Arthur Blank and the National Football League in on this little nugget of economic truth.

Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons, is trolling about for a new stadium. The team's current home, the Georgia Dome, opened in 1992. It has been home to NCAA basketball tournaments, the 1996 Olympics, two Super Bowls, college football games such as this weekend's Southeastern Conference championship and the Chick-fil-A Bowl and Kickoff, Georgia State football and many other big-time events. And it appears to be none the worse for wear.

But in the world of the NFL, where bigger is better and even bigger than that is waiting around the corner, it is considered a relic from a forgotten age.

It reminds us of a famous sideline quote from Jerry Glanville, a former Falcons coach, as he chided a referee: "You know what NFL stands for don't you? ‘Not For Long' in this league if you make lousy calls like that one."

Not for long, indeed. Remember, this is the league where franchises have moved in the dead of night when they didn't get the stadium deal they wanted.

The Falcons aren't likely to bolt town anytime soon, but that is the veiled threat when an owner begins lobbying governments for a new palace.

Blank is doing just that. Recently, he and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell schmoozed with state officials at a Falcons game, among them Gov.-elect Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. Both vowed to help Blank in his quest, which would include tax money for a new open-air or retractable-roof stadium that could cost anywhere from $500 million to $1 billion (the Dome cost $210 million; the team's lease on it run through 2020).

Earlier this year, the legislature agreed to extend the state's hotel-motel tax until 2050 to help pay for such a venture. The thinking there is that most of the burden is born by out-of-town visitors rather than residents, though that isn't the case for those of us who travel and take rooms in-state.

So that's the where, the who and the how. But a bigger question is: Why?

Why do the Falcons need a new stadium when their 18-year-old facility seems more than adequate for the team and its fans? Over the last three years, the budding powerhouse team has won 19 of 22 games, a decided homefield edge. And fans seem to like it: The Falcons have sold out the place the last three years.

The Dome is downtown and accessible, right on the MARTA line. It provides a comfortable venue to sporting events, concerts and conventions. It's a good building, and it has been good for Atlanta.

The problem, though, is money. Compared to newer and bigger NFL stadiums, the Dome doesn't generate enough cash for the Falcons. That's one reason Forbes rated the team 26th out of 32 franchises in overall value.

In a league with a salary cap, revenue sharing and obscenely lucrative TV deals, teams' revenue differences are in what they earn from stadiums, not just ticket sales but from luxury boxes, concessions and other amenities.

Compared to new Caligula-like edifices in Arizona (cost $455 million), Dallas ($1.2 billion) and New Jersey ($1.6 billion), the Dome's earning power is weak.

What's more, the NFL no longer grants Super Bowls to mere mortal stadiums. It now has to be held in one of these glittering new monuments to excess. That's why the new Meadowlands park in Jersey will get a championship game played in the open air chill of February. Who cares about weather when you can sell more pricey suites?

Usually when a business wants to earn more money, it finds way to expand through its own investments. But not in the NFL, or any pro sport, for that matter. The modus operandi of these robber barons is to put the screws to local governments and threaten to skip town for a more desperate burg if they don't get a new building.

That is arrogant enough in good times, but as the state and nation continue to creep slowly out of a two-year recession, it is downright obnoxious.

Georgia has struggled to keep its state budget out of the red the last two years. We can't afford to fix our roads or pay our teachers for a full year of class for students. But our leaders can approve a tax increase in a heartbeat to feather the nest of the local ballclub, provided it wines and dines them sufficiently. What a racket.

Someone, someday, needs to tell the NFL and its highwaymen to take a hike. There is no valid reason to tear down the Dome and build another, or for the Falcons to vacate a perfectly good stadium, other than pure greed.

Greed is good, as Michael Douglas' character told us in "Wall Street," and does serve a role in a free-market economy. But greed with our tax dollars is a crime and needs to be nipped in the bud.

If the state legislature wants to use the extra hotel-motel tax to fund more important needs, fine. But to raise levies to build an unnecessary billion-dollar playpen for one of Atlanta's richest men? Get real.

We're all enjoying the Falcons' brilliant season and what may be the franchise's best-ever collection of players and coaches. But let's not let the cheering go to our heads and agree to something that is not in the state's long-term best interest.

As we said, there is need and there is want. The Falcons don't need a new stadium; they want one. So they should build their own and stay out of our wallets.

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