Cobb officials give new publicly-funded Braves stadium the green light

Cobb officials vote to make Braves agreement official


  • Maggie Lee
  • Braves President John Schuerholz (center) now has 40 months to build a Cobb stadium.

Atlanta Braves execs and Cobb County officials have formally signed off on a new stadium agreement despite calls from some unhappy residents, Tea Party activists, and government watchdogs.

Cobb County Commissioners last night voted 4-1 in favor of its 30-year Memorandum of Understanding with the Braves. The agreement brings the ball club one large step closer toward opening its new stadium for the 2017 Major League Baseball season and lays out development details for the complex located near the intersection of I-75 and I-285.

In front of a packed room, Chairman Tim Lee told the Marietta crowd that the move was a "second to none" economic development opportunity. A team of business supporters, mainly decked in Braves navy blue, cheered the vote from the first few rows of the capacity-packed meeting. The team's top brass, including President John Schuerholz and Executive Vice President Mike Plant, arrived early to grab a front row seat.

"This is a most significant and historic day for our franchise," Schuerholz said after the vote. "This gold standard franchise has joined with a gold standard county as we plan our future together."

The document locks in the stadium's total cost at $672 million. About $300 million would come from Cobb's purse - mainly from hotel, motel, and rental car taxes - plus an additional voluntary tax for area businesses. The Braves would bankroll the balance of the stadium as well as the adjacent $400 million entertainment district.

"This is exactly the kind of development that should be a public-private partnership because we all benefit from it," incoming Cobb Chamber of Commerce chair Ben Mathis said.

Cobb Commissioner Lisa Cupid fought off tears as she explained her vote against the stadium agreement. Although she supported the Braves, she said there wasn't enough time to properly review the proposal's details and make sure the development happened correctly. Cupid also called for a citizen advisory committee and transit between the stadium and her south Cobb district.

"I absolutely wish tonight this was a vote for the county just to express our commitment to bringing the Braves here," Cupid said.

Cobb resident Patricia Hay echoed Cupid's arguments more bluntly. "We spent two years discussing if we could have chickens in back yards," she said during public comment. "... and we're going to take two weeks and ram the stadium through?"

For Cobb resident Kevin Daniels, the "veil of secrecy" and rushed process around Cobb's dealings with the Braves disappointed him. He fears lack of published studies might uncover more costs in the future.

"My conclusion is that that net result to the taxpayer will be highly negative due to all the road improvements and intersection improvements that will be performed at the county's expense," said Daniels.

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  • Maggie Lee
  • A Marietta sign business made some in-kind donations to the Braves-in-Cobb cause.

Cobb officials and Braves execs defended their negotiations. Georgia law allows some secrecy in economic development talks. Lee said the county went through its normal process for corporate relocation projects. Meanwhile, Schuerholz denied that the talks happened in secrecy and instead referred to them as confidential.

But the outcome was neither confidential nor secret. Victory party invitations went out at least 12 hours before the vote, sent by the Cobb Chamber of Commerce. (The Chamber declined CL's RSVP, saying the Strand Theater party was invitation-only event)

Fulton County Commissioner Robb Pitts also watched the vote that solidified the Braves' move from Turner Field, which Mayor Kasim Reed said would be razed if the team leave the city. Pitts pointed out that he has seen many similar deals fall apart. Atlanta and Fulton County officials, he added, would be "waiting on deck if something goes wrong."

"Does it hurt our ego? Yes," Pitts said. "But pro sports is a business ... they make decisions based on their franchise's needs."

If not, the Turner Field's 60-acre site could host something else, like a casino or middle-class development. The site is owned by the Atlanta Fulton County Recreational Authority, whose board members are appointed by the Fulton County Commission and the Atlanta City Council, but doesn't quite answer to either government body. Reed recently said that more details will be released in the coming weeks regarding the stadium area's future.