ATLANTA (CN) — The Atlanta City Council early Tuesday morning approved a final funding package that clears the way for the construction of a $90 million public safety training center.
A motion just before the final 11-4 vote sought to send the funding plan back to a committee for more debate, but it failed by the same margin.
The vote came around 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, after the council heard over 14 hours of public comments that began Monday. The four council members who voted against the plan were Jason Dozier, Liliana Bakhtiari, Keisha Waites and Antonio Lewis.
Out of the more than 350 public commenters who had signed up to speak – and even more who the council allowed to speak in two additional sessions – only four spoke in favor of the project.
“Just thinking about the funding part of this makes it an easy no vote for me,” Lewis said. “The money that they spent on this, I know we can help some young folks who need some help in the city of Atlanta.”
The funding package includes a more than $30 million increase to the city's contribution to the development of the nation's largest police training facility.
Dubbed "Cop City" by its opponents for its inclusion of a mock city for first responders to train in, in addition to a firing range, the planned facility has been the center of a years-long controversy that has drawn criticism from people across the nation and even in foreign countries.
The scheduled vote over whether to approve the final funding plan drew hundreds of people to Atlanta’s City Hall Monday.
The City Council, the city’s Democratic Mayor Andre Dickens and the Atlanta Police Foundation, which is spearheading the project, had originally said the facility would cost the city $30 million.
But last month, city officials publicly acknowledged for the first time that the actual cost to taxpayers is expected to be more than double that amount at $67 million.
The nonprofit Atlanta Police Foundation, which claims to have “united the business and philanthropic community with the Atlanta Police Department," has promised to cover the rest of the funding for the facility's estimated $90 million total price tag.
According to a review of public documents by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, some decision makers were aware of the millions in additional costs as early as August 2021, which come from a "lease back" provision in the city's lease with the Atlanta Police Foundation to repay the nonprofit organization $37 million over the next 30 years for the facility's construction.
The project is also receiving funding from an array of corporate donors, including Delta, Home Depot, Cox Enterprises, Coca-Cola, and UPS.
City officials argue that the additional annual payment is less than the average $1.4 million the city currently pays to lease inadequate facilities to train police and firefighters. But the lack of public disclosure that taxpayers would have to continue making annual lease payments even after the facility is built, only further fueled criticism and frustration from those opposing its construction.
Protesters flooded the City Hall building on Monday, as over 400 people signed up to speak before the council during public comments. Tensions were high inside the chamber, with a majority of the speakers decrying the project, and only a few expressing support and speaking in defense of Mayor Dickens, who has received backlash for voting in favor of the initial proposal for the lease agreement while serving on the City Council in 2021.
Several DeKalb county residents, where the facility is to be built, said that they did not support it, largely in fear that it will exacerbate the over-policing of Black communities. NAACP Legal Defense Fund Senior Counsel Gary Spencer, said the facility will perpetuate the militarization of police, which will "have no effect on safety, but dire consequences on Black citizens."