As most readers now know, the Braves announced on Monday that they plan to relocate from Turner Field south of Downtown Atlanta to a $672 million new stadium that will be built on a 60-acre tract just northwest of the I-75/I-285 intersection in the Cumberland/Galleria area of Cobb County.
Braves President John Schuerholz told reporters on Monday he was “100 percent certain” the deal would take place, and indeed Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed threw in the towel on Tuesday.
A key factor behind the move was the Braves’ desire to control the surroundings of the stadium and make it more of a year-round destination. As anyone who’s been to Turner Field knows, that stadium is an island in an ocean of rundown properties. That’s not likely to be the case here, where the stadium will be built in an area that already boasts one of the most dynamic economies in the Southeast.
And while many were quickly critical of the impact the stadium would have on traffic here, we suspect the new facility will nevertheless be easier and quicker to access than Turner Field. Moreover, drivers here are not likely to find themselves snarled in the mega-jams that occur when Braves games coincide with those of the Falcons, Yellow Jackets, Hawks and other downtown teams.
Based on what is known at the moment, it clearly has the potential to be a great deal for Cobb.
That hinges, however, on the release of the financial details behind the move, and specifically what the impact will be on Cobb taxpayers. Chairman Lee has played it close to the vest and has declined to say whether property or sales taxes would be increased. Once the euphoria of the Braves announcement wears off, he might find those such increases a tough sell to county residents, if they aren’t already.
On the other hand, if most or all of Cobb’s share of the deal is to be paid for via the hotel/motel tax or via a revenue bond issue by the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority, Lee likely will find the going easier. Revenue bonds could be paid off with funds generated by the stadium complex, although county taxpayers could still be responsible for making up the difference if stadium or other revenues fall short. It’s the same funding mechanism the Authority used to pay for construction of the $47 million Cobb Galleria Centre convention hall nearly two decades ago.
A more likely scenario, though, is that the stadium will more than pay for itself and that its presence will unleash a flood of additional sales and hotel/motel tax revenues.
That said, Lee, the commission and the Exhibit Hall Authority should not let themselves be blinded by the excitement of the moment. Big-league sports teams are notorious for playing one community against another in order to benefit themselves. And there’s no guarantee that even if the Braves move here is finalized, that the Braves won’t start playing hardball against Cobb for a better deal later on.
With that in mind, Lee and the Commission need to negotiate the strongest deal possible up front in order to protect Cobb taxpayers of today and tomorrow.
Only then will a majority of Cobb residents be comfortable saying “Play ball!”