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Reed: Community outcry scared away casinos and non-gaming developer at Turner Field

Community: Well, then they probably weren't the best developer for the site?


?Come Monday's deadline, three development teams had stepped forward to pitch ideas on how to transform the 67 acres that includes Turner Field and the sea of asphalt next to the soon-to-be-vacant baseball stadium. 
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? One, Georgia State University's joint venture with Carter and Oakwood Development that envisions student housing, greenspace, and retail — and which Mayor Kasim Reed has said in the past that he supports — was expected. However, new reports say the public-private partnership includes the possibility of adding a second stadium to the site.
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? A relatively unknown nonprofit named Mercury Youth Organization has lobbed a proposal to turn Turner Field into "Mercury International Youth Sports Complex @ Centennial Olympic Park." The megaproject would include the city's first indoor track and developments — including the "M. Kasim Reed International Business and Finance Plaza" and a 40-story "luxury living" tower along with brownstones and "European-style condos." (We've pasted a copy of its proposal brochure at the end of the post.) 
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? The final bidder named Rita World Pearl Kingdom LLC has baffled practically everyone in the city, sparking speculation that it could be a gaming entity. MGM Grand, one casino kingpin that had been sniffing a potential location in Downtown, told Creative Loafing it's not affiliated with RWPK. The group has not registered with the Georgia secretary of state and has zero internet presence. If you have any details, send us a line.  
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? Reed, speaking yesterday, told reporters that he is not familiar with either of the lesser-known bidders. But he said that opposition from the community to massive shrines to games of chance seems to have quashed hopes from casinos — and he said one non-gaming developer blamed residents' "vitriol" for a decision not to bid.
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? “What I know is that I personally communicated to at least two firms that are gaming firms, that were interested in that property, that I would not support their efforts. I did that in response to the community,” said Reed. “And do I believe that it influenced the number of bidders? I do believe it influenced the number of bidders.”
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? The mayor said he saw one plan from a gaming company that would have fenced off the 67-acre site. Reed said he sensed "that would not have been acceptable to the community." Reed has approached gaming cautiously and said Atlanta is attracting new businesses and making enough jobs that “our city is moving in the direction where it’s not really needed for us.”
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? “It would have generated a huge number of jobs if gaming ever came into existence, but what would have happened in the interim is that facility was going to be gated off until the debate at the state level played out,” he said.
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?Ah yes, the debate at the state level. Casino gambling will not be legal in Georgia unless — or until — the state Legislature sets up a referendum that can win approval in a statewide vote. State lawmakers, armed with a study by the gaming industry that says six casinos in Georgia could create jobs and cash for the higher education scholarship, have already signaled that they would push for legislation on the issue.
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?Reed also said one non-gaming firm was turned off by the prospect of going through the Livable Centers Initiative Study. The award-winning program launched by the Atlanta Regional Commission gathers citizen feedback as to what they would like to see happen to dormant, often times auto-oriented parts of the metro region. The Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority, the body that owns Turner Field, said it would not wait for that process to finish before selling the megaproperty.
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? “The LCI definitely influenced it with another firm that would have bid," said Reed, who has questioned why community input was necessary on Turner Field when he claimed other large RFPs did not include extended conversations with nearby residents. "They absolutely to some extent do think that the community hurt themselves with the amount of vitriol during the conversation coming up to the bidding process."
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?The Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition, the grassroots group that's helping the surrounding neighborhoods of Mechanicsville, Peoplestown, and Summerhill speak with one voice and help shape the Turner Field redevelopment, said in a statement released last night that it is also disappointed more bids were not submitted.
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?It said it supported Reed reopening the bidding process if the mayor thinks it would attract more bids and could address community concerns. But the coalition "rejects the suggestion that the community or LCI process discouraged bidders."
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?"Most importantly, any bidder unwilling to work with the community and through the LCI process is not an appropriate developer for the site," the group said. 
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?Who will actually give the final OK for Turner Field's sale — the city, counnty, or AFCRA, or some combination of the three — has yet to be determined
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?Here's Mercury Youth Organization's proposal brochure.
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