Report: L.A. group courted Blank about Falcons

ATLANTA — Falcons owner Arthur Blank informed Atlanta city council members the franchise was being courted by a group from Los Angeles, an Atlanta television station reported late Monday, inviting a perceived threat to negotiations that have thus far proceeded smoothly.

As word spread, Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed took to the radio on Tuesday, in the form of the Falcons’ broadcast partner, 790 The Zone, to try and tamp down any controversy. His comments, however, served only to confirm the facts.

Reed maintained the talks have not been adversarial between the team and the city of Atlanta, which, in the current financing plan, is not being asked to contribute to the proposed stadium — although it is possible that Reed might change that aspect of the plan.

“It was really a conversation about the landscape,” Reed said on the radio station of a meeting between the Falcons and the city council. “It was meant to be a private briefing for council, but some members chose to share it, and I’m fine with that. I wanted to make sure that folks know that that just hasn’t been the tone of any of these conversations at all.”

According to the FOX 5 Atlanta report, Reed “called in council members one at a time to tell them that the city needs to take a more aggressive lead in the public financing portion” of the proposed stadium. However, the report also said that Blank could be willing to increase the amount that the Falcons would contribute to the project. It has been reported that the Falcons hope to raise between $200 million and $300 million for the stadium through personal seat licenses, which is one funding mechanism the team will rely upon.

The news comes about one week after Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal made it public that he would prefer the Falcons reduce their amount they’re asking from the state — in the form of a hotel/motel tax — by $100 million. The price tag for the retractable roof stadium is $954 million, with $300 million financed by the tax. The hotel/motel tax was re-authorized by the Georgia General Assembly in its 2010 session, without much public scrutiny.

However, to raise the debt limit from $200 million to $300 million for the Georgia World Congress Center, which operates the Georgia Dome and would operate the new stadium, would require a vote of approval by the Republican-controlled state legislature. Anti-tax sentiment in Georgia runs strong, and the move to replace the dome (which opened in 1992) is not popular. The governor also sought to allay any fears of the team’s potential move on Tuesday, but the notion seems to have served its purpose.

“What it does is emphasize the fact that having a major football team like the Atlanta Falcons is a sought-after commodity,” Deal said, as reported by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. “I recognize that fact.” Deal was speaking at an event organized by Georgia Trend magazine, honoring him for being the 2013 Georgian of the Year.

“Arthur Blank has never played that card, and I give him credit for that,” Deal told the Business Chronicle. “I have not had any direct conversations about this.”

FOX 5 in Atlanta cited two unnamed city council members as saying that Blank informed both city and state officials of the interest from a group in Los Angeles during private talks.

The Falcons, who began as an NFL expansion franchise in 1966, hope to open the new stadium sometime around 2017.

Los Angeles has been without a team since the Rams and Raiders relocated to St. Louis and Oakland, respectively, before the 1995 season. L.A., the nation’s No. 2 media market, is actively seeking a return to the NFL.