None of his four colleagues on the Board of Commissioners would say how they intend to vote, although two, Helen Goreham and JoAnn Birrell, say they favor the details they have seen so far. The other two commissioners, Democrat Lisa Cupid and Republican Bob Ott, are holding their cards close.
Cupid and Ott Cupid, who represents southwest Cobb in District 4, said while the deal may be a win for the county, it’s not her style to move as quickly as she’s being asked to vote.
“I wish this wasn’t sprung upon me because typically when there are controversial issues I like to have a public meeting,” Cupid said, encouraging the public to turn out and speak Nov. 26.
Cupid said most people who have contacted her do not support the deal.
“The majority is saying they are clearly not for it from the comments I’m receiving,” Cupid said. “At the end of the day, a lot of great things have happened in Cobb, but as the tides of Cobb rise, District 4’s boat has not always risen, so people want to see what the direct benefit will be to this district, and they want to minimize any negative impact at the very least, and I can understand why.”
Like Cupid, Ott, whose District 2 in southeast Cobb encompasses the proposed site, wouldn’t say whether he was leaning in favor of a yes or no vote.
“I would just say I’m continuing my review and intend to review the (memorandum of understanding) that we’ll get on Monday,” he said.
Ott said public reaction he’s received has been mixed.
“Probably the biggest concern I hear is traffic,” Ott said. “A lot of emails that have concerns almost exclusively deal with traffic and the congestion that it will cause, and so I think it’s good that the Braves and the county have started to put out documents on how transportation and traffic is going to be addressed.”
Goreham, a Republican who represents District 1 in northwest Cobb, said between Monday when Lee announced the proposal and Thursday when he released the financial documents, about 75 percent of the emails she received opposed the move.
“But with anything, you always hear from the negatives rather than from the positives,” Goreham said.
It wasn’t until late Wednesday night that Lee told the MDJ that Cobb County would pay $300 million while the Braves would pay $372 million. Prior to that, the only number the public had to go on was Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s claim that Cobb taxpayers would pay for $450 million. Therefore “the feedback that I received was based on poor information or misinformation,” Goreham said.
A number of emails sent to Goreham include complaints about why the Board of Commissioners would entertain a stadium proposal when the Cobb School District was facing a funding shortfall. Commissioners do not have a say in funding the school system, Goreham said; that’s the Board of Education’s role.
“It’s amazing that people don’t understand that difference,” Goreham said. “People have said, ‘How can you spend, basically, money on entertainment when our kids don’t have books and our teachers are furloughed,’ and I even had a retired teacher email me, basically asking me the same thing, and I had to educate her basically on the Board of Education and the Board of Commissioners, so many of the emails that came in had to do with the poor financial state of the school system.”
What that teacher may not realize, Goreham said, is that every baseball ticket sold at the new stadium will generate sales tax revenue for the school district just as the planned mixed-use development the Braves want to build will generate new property taxes for the school system.
“This is the next major economic engine for our county. This is it,” Goreham said. “This provides us, I believe, with an opportunity to increase our tax base and improve our economy, and take us through the rest of this recession and provides a much needed revenue stream for Cobb County and the school system.”
True, commissioners are moving quickly on the deal, but Goreham said unless details change, she is comfortable with voting Nov. 26.
“If I’m not comfortable with it, and there needs to be more negotiations obviously I would request that we need some more time, but if the (memorandum of understanding) follows what’s been out there, the basic framework, and we’re able to have everyone see the MOU, then we should be ready for the vote,” she said.
Birrell, who represents District 3 in northeast Cobb, said she’s received about 200 emails concerning the stadium. Most opposed the idea until Lee announced how it would be paid for.
“After the financials came out, I have to say more people have come out in support of it now that they’ve seen where the money’s coming from,” Birrell said.
Birrell likes what she sees.
“I’m very comfortable with it,” Birrell said. “It won’t be an increase in people’s property taxes. They’re already paying it now for the parks bond. It will just transfer over. And a bulk of the financials are coming out of the Braves’ pocket and the (Cumberland Community Improvement District) and the Exhibit Hall Authority, and I just feel that it’s not only going to bring a greater tax base to our economic development for all of Cobb really, but it’s also not just the stadium, but the mixed use project with the hotels and the condos and the shops and the restaurants and everything else going in there is just going to magnify, and to me that’s going to be a big draw for other companies to headquarter here like Home Depot.”
Criticism from Atlanta
Goreham laughed while commenting on an Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial that said it was “amateurish” that Cobb leaders “seem pretty singularly focused on the impact of Cobb” rather than considering the region as a whole.
“Yes, we do serve our constituents here, that our job is to serve our county and our constituents and do what we think is the best for Cobb County,” Goreham said with a chuckle.
The regional thinking rebuke spurred Birrell to mention the failed regional TSPLOST of 2012.
“The regional thing got defeated, didn’t it?” Birrell said. “They’re just sour grapes. I don’t blame them for being mad. Everybody wants the Braves.”
Goreham said it was important to consider how the deal unfolded.
“Who approached whom? The Braves approached Cobb County. We didn’t go to the Braves. The Braves approached us,” Goreham said.
And it’s not as if the Braves are leaving the state, she said.
“When we’re talking about other items, we’re a region, and so whatever we do in Cobb affects Atlanta. But now that the Braves have moved 12 miles north, it becomes an isolated incident that we’re only doing for the sake of Cobb? And again, the Braves came to us,” Goreham said.
Like Birrell, Lee said initial reaction he received when the deal was announced on Monday was “are you nuts?”
“But as more and more information is becoming available, I’m getting more and more emails and phone calls saying they jumped off the cliff too fast, and it really is a good project, and they understand it and are appreciative of the fact that (the Braves are) going to call Cobb County home,” Lee said.