Cobb Board of Commissioners Chairman Tim Lee said it was state Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) who put him in touch with Atlanta Braves executives in a lunch that ended up in a proposal to move the Braves to Cobb County in 2017, if all goes as planned.
Ehrhart has befriended a number of Braves executives through his involvement in developing Emerson-based LakePoint Sporting Community in Bartow County, which describes itself as the largest sports vacation destination in the world.
“It just came up in a conversation out here,” Ehrhart said. “They asked me if I could introduce them to those in Cobb County. They laid out some very clear metrics for me that most of the population of Braves’ fans are right here in the Cobb County area. Then they showed me the $800 million or so of economic impact that it could have, I’m thinking, wow, this is a wonderful thing for Cobb County.”
Ehrhart said he arranged for Lee to meet with Mike Plant, Braves executive vice president of business operations, at the Marietta Country Club in July.
“We sat and talked for about three hours and Tim and his team put together an awesome deal, I think,” Ehrhart said.
During a press conference in Atlanta on Monday, Plant said following that lunch, “Tim quickly — as Cobb County conducts its business — got the Chamber’s economic development organization involved, and they’ve been the lead organization that we’ve worked with in the last couple of months.”
Lee related what the executives told him at the lunch.
“They said ‘We have a vision for our team for the decades to come. It’s more than just a baseball stadium. Is there anything in Cobb that might fit the bill?’ And we went back and looked and found only one piece of property and they liked it,” Lee said.
Brooks Mathis, executive vice president of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, said the Braves had conducted a study telling them most of their ticket buyers lived in the surrounding area.
“So by doing that, they reached out to us after they saw the demographics and turned it over to us, so we submitted the site to them that they ended up choosing and that’s where it started and how it all came to be,” Mathis said.
Mathis said the address was an important factor in the deal.
“It was very important for them to still have an Atlanta address, which this site does have, so that was a big part, I believe for them is that the acreage was there, it still has an Atlanta address and it was close to the fan base,” Mathis said.
Ehrhart said his one request was that the Braves didn’t use Cobb as a stalking horse to leverage against the city of Atlanta for a better deal.
“They clearly kept their word on that, and I thought that was very sincere of them and the right way to do business,” Ehrhart said.
It turned out to be a successful meeting.
“I’ve always thought the Braves should be in Cobb County, and now they will be. It’s a great day for Cobb,” he said.
Ehrhart said Turner Stadium will be 20 years old by the time the Braves’ lease is up in 2016.
“My personal opinion, I think Arthur Blank sucked up all the money that the city would have had to do anything to fix the stadium that it needed and there just wasn’t anything for them to do so they left the Braves out to dry,” Ehrhart said.
Given Blank’s Falcons play eight games a year compared to the 70 to 80 games a year the Braves play, Ehrhart said, “I prefer baseball on that kind of economics.”
Ehrhart said he read Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s statement that Cobb County had offered $450 million in public support to the Braves, an amount Reed was unwilling to match.
“I know he’s upset, but perhaps he should have done a little bit more to concern himself with a corporate citizen that is worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year in economic development rather than just leaving them out in the cold,” Ehrhart said.
And as for his statement about Cobb pledging $450 million, Ehrhart said, “The only thing I would say since I don’t have any knowledge of exactly what it is I doubt very seriously that Kasim is talking from a set of facts.”
Lee said he will announce the financial piece of the deal next week as the Cobb Board of Commissioners prepares to vote on a memorandum of understanding with the Braves on Nov. 26.
Ehrhart said he can’t think of a better place to take his family for a ballgame than Cobb County, noting Turner Field is not the safest location to visit now.
“Let’s put it this way, if my 6-year-old or whatever at the time was walking around by themselves down there I’d be kind of concerned, wouldn’t you?” Ehrhart said. “Everyplace has its issues, but (Cumberland), that’s a nice safe area and the transportation infrastructure there is great.”