On a clear day you can see what the Braves will mean, financially, to local business
Connie Engel, a Cumberland CID board member, looks out over the expanse of the Galleria, near where the Braves will be relocating.
Kelly J. Huff
CUMBERLAND — Commercial property owners in the Cumberland area will contribute a total of $5.15 million each year to help fund the construction of the new $672 million Atlanta Braves stadium, but leaders of the Cumberland Community Improvement District expect nearby businesses will see a significant return on this investment.
On Feb. 25, the Cobb Board of Commissioners approved the creation of the Cumberland Special Services District II, a district with the same boundaries as the Cumberland CID that requires owners of commercial properties to pay an additional 2.7 mills in property tax to bring in the required $5.15 million. The millage rate could possibly be lowered as the value of property in the area increases, as long as the $5.15 million is generated.
Those funds will go toward servicing the debt on the bonds the county plans to use to finance the stadium’s construction, which could total up to $397 million.
Connie Engel of Vinings, a Cumberland CID board member, said the area will be transformed by the new stadium.
“I think it’s going to reset this whole area — that this is going to be, you know, kind of Braves country,” she said.
Engel is also a partner at Childress Klein Properties, which manages five of the six office buildings at the Atlanta Galleria. The properties she manages total about 2 million square feet of space. The office buildings she manages, located across Interstate 285 from the site of the proposed stadium, house about 129 companies with a total of about 5,000 employees, she said.
Engel said there has been an increase in the number of businesses inquiring about office space recently, and while she said she does not know if this is the result of the Braves’ move or the improved economy, interested companies have been asking to face the stadium site, something which didn’t occur before the stadium was announced.
“When people come to look at possible office space, for years and years and years, everybody always wanted to look downtown at the skyline,” she said. “For the last four or five months, everybody wants to look north, which is towards the ballpark. And you won’t be able to see into the ballpark; even from the top floor of our building, you won’t be able to see in because of the elevation. But you will know every time there’s a home run, and there’s a certain amount of energy coming from that being kind of a cool place.”
Engel said the total value of the properties she manages is about $750 million after 30 years of operation. The Braves and the county are surpassing this value in three years.
“Between the stadium and the adjacent development, they’re basically investing a billion dollars across the street. So, in three years, they will have matched our level of development. And so you can’t be anything else other than excited about that,” she said.
Engel, who has been on the board of the Cumberland CID since 1998, said she believes the stadium and mixed-use development will result in increased sales for businesses in the area and higher property values. While owners may not like paying the additional tax, “there are pretty high odds” of the value of properties in the area increasing after the stadium opens, Engel said.
Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee said the businesses in the area will pay a large portion of bond service, but they will experience the benefits of the stadium’s operation most directly.
“The bond debt will largely be paid for by the business community surrounding the project. This makes sense because they will also benefit by new business growth in the same area. I expect the (return on investment) for business will be visible in increased sales, higher occupancy levels and a new venue for commercial and retail space to complement the area,” he said.
According to an economic analysis study performed by Atlanta-based Brailsford & Dunlavey, the stadium’s operation will result in 4,014 new jobs — 1,926 of which are expected to be filled by residents of Cobb County. These employees will earn $60.8 million each year, the study states, with $15.1 million going to employees who live in Cobb. The study also states the stadium’s operation will generate $4 million in tax revenue for the county each year.
The expansion of Cobb’s tax base increases the ability of the county to provide services such as public safety, Lee added.
The Braves’ move may also result in unforeseen benefits to the area, Engel said.
“I think there are things that will happen here that we really don’t even know, that just kind of organically come about when you have that kind of venue in your backyard,” she said.
Tad Leithead, chairman of the Cumberland CID, which will contribute $10 million for infrastructure improvements related to the Braves stadium, said the rise in retail sales from the stadium and the mixed-use development alone will lead to a significant increase in tax revenue for the county. Restaurants in the area will also see more business after the stadium opens, he said, and the hotel industry will see a major surge in demand.
“My understanding is the Braves generate 400,000 hotel room nights annually. And that’s a huge number,” he said. “Now, they’ve been generating that, but they’ve been generating it downtown. Now that they’re out in Cobb, a lot of people will stay in hotels in order to be adjacent to the stadium. So, the existing hotels … are going to experience an increased percentage of occupancy just based on those additional room nights.”
Leithead said he has seen estimates saying 75 to 80 percent of the 400,000 hotel room stays will be at Cobb County hotels.
Additionally, Engel said there are developers looking to build hotels and apartments in the area.
“You’ve got a lot of people trying to build apartments. You’ve got a lot of people trying to build new hotels. They all believe that this is going to be a pretty great thing,” she said.
Traffic, parking issues
Engel said some business owners may have concerns about possible traffic problems resulting from the stadium, but she thinks the problem may not be as big as some imagine.
The Braves will play 81 homes games in the 2017 season, she said, and of those, only 41 will be played Monday through Thursday. Three of those games will be played on July 4, Memorial Day and Labor Day, Engel added, and she thinks four of the remaining 38 games will begin at noon and end before 5 p.m.
“So, you’re really now down to 34 days per year where you’ve got a baseball game the night of a workday,” she said.
Additionally, Engel believes the Braves chose the right time to move to the area as there are several transportation projects which were already underway, such as the $834 million, “reversible” lane project on I-75 and the $33.4 million Windy Hill Road diverging diamond interchange.
The reversible — or managed — lanes project will add new toll lanes on the west side of the interstate, which will reverse to ease congestion; the lanes will run south in the mornings and north in the evenings. The project is expected to break ground this month and be completed in spring 2018.
The diverging diamond interchange will allow vehicles to cross to the opposite sides of the road on the bridge when entering or exiting the freeway, eliminating the need for those drivers to make left turns. The Cobb Department of Transportation hopes to break ground on the project in fall 2015 and open the interchange in March 2017.
Engel said she believes the Cobb DOT will be able to handle any traffic issues resulting from the stadium.
“I have a lot of faith in them that they can get their arms around this,” she said.
Leithead said the site of the proposed stadium is accessible from multiple directions, which will help ease traffic in the area.
“The Braves have been concerned about traffic in their current location, and they made a decision to come to a place where they did not have those kind of traffic concerns,” he said. “You know, there’s essentially one way to get to Turner Field right now, and there’s 14 ways to get to the new site in Cobb County. So we’ll be able to spread that traffic over a wide variety of access points, and that will make a huge difference in terms of the ability to get to and from the stadium.”
Business owners have also expressed concerns about parking, Leithead said.
“They are concerned that their parking lot will fill up with Braves cars and they won’t be able to provide parking to their visitors,” he said.
The Braves are working on a plan to resolve the parking issues, Leithead said, but the ballclub tends to work internally, so he is not familiar with the details of any plan.
The Atlanta Galleria will not be part of the parking plan, however. Engel said the Braves approached her about using the parking facilities her company manages and she turned them down.
“We did have a conversation about parking. And so, we did explain that we just cannot offer up our parking facilities during games or events because that’s just not what we’re set up for,” she said. “We’re set up to serve the tenants here. And so, I think that was understood, and I think that has made a lot of our folks rest a little easier, knowing that they’re not going to have to worry about being able to park in their deck or coming back to the office at four o’clock in the afternoon of a gameday and having to fight crowds. So, I think it’s worked out great.”
4,014: Total new jobs
1,926: Total new jobs for Cobb residents
$60.8M: Total earnings for year
$4M: Tax revenue per year
♦ Position: Partner with Childress Klein Properties and board member of the Cumberland CID
♦ Home: The 30-year Cobb County resident lives in Vinings
♦ Family: Pete Watson, husband; Jackie Grech, 32, daughter; Sarah Oddsen DeCaro, 31, daughter; Ellis Watson, 21, son
♦ Education: University of Iowa, majored in communications