MARIETTA — Supporters drowned out the critics on Tuesday night urging the Cobb Board of Commissioners to approve spending $300 million of public money to construct a new stadium for the Atlanta Braves.
And that’s exactly what they did.
The vote was 4-1 to support a memorandum of understanding between the county and the Braves for the $672 million stadium set to open in 2017 at the intersections of Interstates 75 and 285. Commissioner Lisa Cupid, who represents south Cobb, cast the lone dissenting vote.
Of the 23 residents who spoke during a public comment period before Tuesday’s vote, about nine were either against the stadium deal or wanted the vote to be postponed. Thirteen spoke in favor of the deal and one was neither for nor against.
Enthusiasts packed the commission meeting room waving “Cobb, Home of the Braves” signs and began arriving more than two hours before the meeting began.
Supporters say the venue will attract new residents, businesses and visitors to the county.
“It gives us progressive things but not only for presently now but for the future,” said Don Wilson of Marietta, District 11 chairman for Democratic Party of Georgia.
Even more importantly, the stadium supporters said it will be an economic engine that will pump needed cash into the county’s and schools system’s coffers.
Some opponents had criticized the deal and said it would divert money away from schools and law enforcement, but that’s just not the case, said Arthur Vaughn, of Marietta, who serves on the Marietta Ethics Committee.
The county budget and the budget of the Cobb County School System are separate and residents are taxed separately by both entities.
“The Braves coming to town could increase the amount of property tax and sales tax revenue and could be used for operating expenditures,” Vaughn said.
Ben Mathis, incoming chairman of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, says the economic impact will be seen for years to come.
“A foundation has been laid for future success ... the Braves want to move here to validate those efforts,” said Mathis, who lives in Marietta and is managing partner at a law firm inside the Cumberland Community Improvement District. The self-taxing district has pledged $10 million to support the deal.
Mathis says Cumberland needs more destination attractions.
“As much as we love our corporate headquarters … they don’t attract millions of people to come to visit, they don’t attract young people to want to live here,” Mathis said.
Braves President John Schuerholz, Vice President of Business Operations Mike Plant and Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing Derek Schiller sat on the first row of the meeting listening to public comments and waiting on the commissioners’ vote.
Cobb business leaders packed the room, including Malaika Rivers, director of the Cumberland CID and Mason Zimmerman who serves on the Cumberland CID board and chairs the Town Center Area CID.
It was just two weeks after the Braves announced their intention to move to Cobb that the commission took a vote. Some residents think that was too fast and didn’t allow time for input.
Patricia Hay, of Mableton, urged commissioners to delay a vote for at least 60 days.
“This deal is happening too fast. It’s been two weeks, and we spent two years discussing whether or not we could have chickens in the back yards,” Hay said, receiving applause referring to heated conversations the county had about whether or not Cobb is an appropriate place for farm animals.
Hay held a hand-written sign above her head that read “No taxation without representation” before addressing commissioners and likening the rushed vote to the haste in which the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare, was passed by Congress.
“You say there’s all these benefits but they’re projected, and we don’t know we’re going to get all of these benefits from it, but we do know we’re going to be paying for it,” Hay said.
Oleg Ivutin, of east Cobb, also asked for the vote to be delayed.
“Even if it is a good investment, I still don’t think it is the role of government to get involved with something like this,” Ivutin said.
It’s been hard enough for the public to understand the deal that will bring the Braves to Cobb, said Terry Taylor of Common Cause Georgia, and it is doubtful commissioners had time to fully understand the ramifications.
Common Cause asked Cobb to not only delay the vote but to hold a public referendum on the use of public money to fund the stadium.
It’s also telling, Taylor said, that Braves officials have not made public comments since the initial announcement and did not attend town hall meetings in Cobb.
“We’re going into a marriage. Personally, I would like to meet my marriage partner before I go to bed,” said Taylor, who lives in Smyrna.
But delaying the vote could let another jurisdiction steal the Braves away, said John Loud, president of Loud Securities, and head of the pro-stadium Cobb Homes of the Braves organization.
“I would not be in favor of delay,” Loud said. “I think that we’ve had some lessons that we’ve learned from the (folks) south of us.”
Residents in the city of Atlanta and Fulton County aren’t happy about losing the team and a delay would give those governments more time to make an attractive deal, Loud said.
Fulton County Commissioner Robb Pitts attended Tuesday’s meeting and was just “waiting to watch us stumble,” Loud said.
The same fury that rushed a vote just two weeks after the announcement caused negotiations to take place with a lack of transparency, critics say.
That’s not “characteristic” of Cobb government, said Kevin Daniels of Marietta.
“I’ve been very disappointed in the veil of secrecy,” Daniels said.
No economic impact or transportation study has been released, said Joy Kramer also of Common Cause Georgia.
“(This) has been opaque at best on the revenues that this stadium will produce,” Kramer said.
Susan Stanton, of Kennesaw, presented 791 petitions to the commission asking for a delay. Those petitions said the team “conspired” with the government on a deal she described as “corporate welfare.”
Dr. Bill Hudson, a retired dentist and former board member of the Georgia Tea Party, accused the majority Republican commission of being “country club Republicans.”
All members of the commission are Republicans with the exception of Cupid, southwest Cobb commissioner who opposed Tuesday’s Braves vote.
“Chamber of Commerce Republicans are very different from conservatives,” Hudson said, pointing to the pro-business nonprofit that has lobbied in favor of the deal from the beginning.
Conservatives don’t typically dole out taxes for private projects, said Neva Lent, president of the Cobb Regional Republican Women, and she wants to know more about their rationale.
“I think all anyone is looking for on the front end of this is some transparency without having to fight for it,” Lent said.