Goreham ‘surprised’ by support for stadium plan
by Jon Gillooly
November 22, 2013 01:11 AM | 9974 views | 17 17 comments | 56 56 recommendations | email to a friend | print
While Commissioner Helen Goreham was pleased by the backing for the Braves at her town hall meeting Thursday night, it wasn’t all positive. Top: Chairman Tim Lee turns to see the sign Elizabeth Reside of Marietta holds behind Goreham. <br> Staff/Jeff Stanton
While Commissioner Helen Goreham was pleased by the backing for the Braves at her town hall meeting Thursday night, it wasn’t all positive. Top: Chairman Tim Lee turns to see the sign Elizabeth Reside of Marietta holds behind Goreham.
Staff/Jeff Stanton
Hunter Hamilton expresses his opposition to the Braves’ move to Cobb.
Hunter Hamilton expresses his opposition to the Braves’ move to Cobb.
 John Stanley with Loud Security, hands a Cobb home of the Braves t-shirt to Mary Hamlin and her daughter Ericka Totten of Marietta prior to the start of Thursday night's town hall meeting hosted by Cobb Commissioner Helen Gorham.
John Stanley with Loud Security, hands a Cobb home of the Braves t-shirt to Mary Hamlin and her daughter Ericka Totten of Marietta prior to the start of Thursday night's town hall meeting hosted by Cobb Commissioner Helen Gorham.
Following an hour and a half town hall meeting on the proposed Cobb County stadium for the Atlanta Braves that attracted a spirited crowd of about 300, Commissioner Helen Goreham said she was surprised.

“I was very surprised about the amount of support that turned out tonight,” Goreham said after the forum conducted at the Senior Wellness Center on Powder Springs Street.

“I think it was overwhelming with spirit and applause, and I was a little shocked by the small numbers of opposition that were actually here. I was expecting the place to be packed with vocal opponents and it was not, and I was very pleased with the manner in which everyone conducted themselves. ... I think as more information gets out ... we’ll see more and more support.”

Prior to the town hall beginning, John Loud, president of Kennesaw-based Loud Security Systems, who has spearheaded the effort to rally the business community in support of bringing the Braves to Cobb County, was out front handing out T-shirts emblazoned with “Cobb: Home of the Braves.”

Cobb Chamber of Commerce staffers lined the entrance to the senior center wearing those T-shirts and holding signs of support in favor of the move.

As residents took their seats, one group began to chant “Hell no!” prompting Loud to lead a much larger group to chant the “Tomahawk Chop,” drowning out the opposition.

For and against

Ericka Totten, who works in advertising and lives in a town home adjacent to the site of the proposed stadium, was among those wearing a Cobb: Home of the Braves shirt.

Totten said since the stadium is going to be in her backyard, she turned out to learn as much as she could about the proposal, such as how it would impact her property’s value and what the plans were for transportation. In general, Totten said she supports the deal.

“I am a fan of just the development that’s coming in the neighborhood,” she said. “You know, that’s kind of my lifestyle, the shops, the restaurants, and I had to go downtown, and now it’s going to be in my backyard. I’m going to have the best of both worlds.”

Elizabeth Reside of Marietta, a registered nurse who held a sign that read “Hell No!,” said she opposes the deal.

“No. 1, Tim Lee is going to extend the park bonds that were to expire in 2017 and 2018 for 30 years. Oh, hell no,” Reside said.

Reside said the stadium would also cause terrible traffic congestion.

“I drive that way every day to and from work — total gridlock,” she said. “They need to put this out in the country where it will not affect people. This is a private business that they’re expecting taxpayers to pay for and I am fuming, and this is another example of the good old boys making the deals under the table and then springing it on us. I’m hopping mad.”

With Commissioners Helen Goreham and Lisa Cupid seated behind him on the stage, County Chairman Tim Lee gave an overview of the proposal the Board of Commissioners will vote on this Tuesday, which involves the Braves building a $672 million stadium and accompanying $400 million mixed-use development down the road from the Cumberland Mall, all set to open in 2017.

Lee and Goreham then opened up the floor for questions.

Why the rush?

Kerwin Swint, a political science professor at Kennesaw State University was among those in the audience, said the 25 people who asked questions and made statements were evenly divided on the issue.

“But the people in the hall, it seems like the majority are for it, judging from they’re wearing Braves’ jerseys, they’re applauding when something positive is said by the commissioners. And so I think most of the people who got up to ask a question either were neutral or were split 50/50,” he said.

The evening was a chance for Cobb citizens to have their voices heard and get their questions answered, and for the most part, Swint believes Lee and Goreham did a good job of accomplishing that task.

“I think the weak spot was Chairman Lee not really giving a very good explanation as to why you can’t delay the vote for four weeks,” Swint said. “Delaying the vote for four weeks is not going to kill the deal; that’s just not believable. I don’t see what it would hurt to delay for four weeks just to give people more of an opportunity to be heard and feel like there’s more community buy-in that it’s not being rushed through.”

Cupid is concerned

Walking back to her car after the meeting, Commissioner Cupid said the speed in which she is being asked to vote does not please her.

“We have taken more time to vet less serious and less significant matters for the county,” Cupid said.

“I’m blown away, absolutely blown away, by the lack of time we’re dedicating to scrutinizing such a significant commitment that we’re going to take over the next 30 years. I don’t think the amount of time that we’re giving is reflective of the length of time and money that we’re going to have to invest in this project.”

Among those who asked questions was Jim Astuto of east Cobb, who asked if it’s such a great deal, why doesn’t Liberty Media pay the full cost? Astuto referenced President Obama and the Solyndra controversy.

“Here we have the government get in the private business and what happened?” Astuto said. “What I’m really concerned about is I really support the Braves coming to Cobb, I think it’s a great idea, but they ought to pay their own way especially when the Cobb County employee pension fund is underfunded by $400 million. I know you guys don’t have anything to do with the school district, but the kids are furloughed five days of the year. And you guys continue to raid the Water Authority every year for $17 million.”

Astuto asked Goreham what makes her think that the county can afford to pay $300 million in the Braves’ deal.

Goreham answered by saying, “Cobb County government is not on the hook for $300 million. We are investing approximately $8.9 million per year into this project.”

Such is the nature of a public-private partnership, she said, referencing the managed lanes project on Interstate-75.

“It is a way to address huge projects and also the fact that financing and looking at those finances you have to look at them in various ways,” Goreham said. “Again, Cobb County is not on the hook for $300 million. Those businesses and those activities in the Cumberland CID area, those that will benefit the most from this opportunity will also be providing finances within this deal.”

Who’s crunching the numbers?

Hunter Hamilton of Marietta asked since the county government doesn’t have the experience of negotiating a deal for building a Major League Baseball stadium, would it be hiring a consultant who specializes in such contracts?

“Or are we going to rely on the county employees to get some on-the-job training to spend $1 billion?” Hamilton asked.

Lee acknowledged while the county’s more than 4,000 employees were some of the best in the region, none had experience building a project of this size.

“What we will do is make sure that there is a team in place that will be monitoring our best interests, not part of the Braves, not part of whoever the investors are that initially come in and do the private part of it, but we will have to bring someone on that has expertise in this to oversee the entire project to make sure our interests are protected every single month along the way,” Lee said.

Hamilton asked if such a team was in place now.

“Yeah, we’ve had a wonderful team of subject matter experts from the financing and projection part of it, part of the team that has put the (memorandum of understanding) together, so yes, we have,” Lee said. “I hand selected the team based on their experience in putting those kinds of programs together.”

Lee declined to release the names of people who are on that team, however, saying some volunteered for the job, and he wanted to ask if they were comfortable being identified.

Joel Foster, Georgia Communications and Grassroots Director for Americans for Prosperity, said his organization opposes the deal, believing it is not role of government to get involved in the private sector.

Foster asked about the bonds for parkland, which voters approved, and which are set to expire in 2017 and 2018. The county is paying those bonds off with a .33 millage rate. When the bonds are paid off, Lee’s plan is to keep that .33 millage on the books for another 30 years to pay off the new stadium bonds.

“My question is this bond as we understand it as taxpayers in Cobb was set to expire in 2017,” Foster said. “How does this not constitute an extension of that bond which ultimately involves more tax dollars overtime?”

Goreham called that an excellent question.

“There will not be any shifting of funds presently up until 2017 and that is when this bond expires,” Goreham said. “When this bond expires, that .33 is a millage rate issue, which becomes a budgetary issue for the Board of Commissioners, so in 2017, when we discuss our budget, we will have to address the .33 mills in the form of budget consideration which by normal procedure and by law we will have to have two public hearings for our budget, so that’s how it will be handled by law and administratively.”

Yet Foster said the millage would have gone away when the parkland bonds were paid off in 2017.

“What would have been a tax cut at that point would constitute an extension of what we already have,” he said.

Goreham disagreed.

“No, it is existing millage which the board addresses within the confines of a biannual budget and that’s how it will be addressed because legally it is a millage rate,” she said.

Summing up the evening, Goreham told the MDJ, “The striking point here was what appeared to be more of a support group than opponents to the proposal.”

And as for Tuesday’s big decision, Goreham said she was ready to act.

“I think we’re all ready to vote on Tuesday, which is my hope,” she said.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Ken Cook
November 26, 2013
Keep asking questions. It's your right and the obligation of a concerned citizen.

Oh, if the Braves want to come here - they'll come. Cobb County taxpayers, citizens, visitors, business owners, and homeowners are GOING to pay for it in some way. Some businesses will get a big boost from it. Lisa Cupid will likely be the only Board member supporting any delay at all. The lies and dirty dealings will surface later - far after any hope of stopping the damage.

Get your party hat on, we'll be eating hot dogs at the Braves game in Vinings in just a few months. Best to all, it's happening regardless.
Piedmont Olsen Hensl
November 23, 2013
Lisa Cupid is so stupid, does she not realize this is good news for her constituents who are also too stupid to get real jobs and move out of the six flags area? This is going to bring thousands of low paying jobs selling beer and peanuts to cobb county and Cupid wants to deny her idiot district 4 citizens this new founded job opportunity?

She along with Birrell have a combined IQ of around 75 I would imagine...I hope for the sake of a cobb County they are one term'ers!

And has anyone seen the mass exodus that has happened at Cobb DOT? The only three people that had any type of clue on how to deliver transportation projects have all left the building! Who is going to deliver these transportation projects? Ahh Consultants to the rescue????
November 22, 2013
Smyrna Braves? Not catchy at all. Atlanta may not allow use of their city's name. Jonquil Braves?That doesn't have much "chop" either. It may be just Braves, but look what happened to the Red Skins...

November 26, 2013
Are you just plain stupid? Where do you get the idea that "Smyrna" has any connection whatsoever to where the new stadium site is located? The zip code there is 30339.......... which is Atlanta,
Kevin Foley
November 22, 2013
See my Friday column. What's the rush Ms. Goreham? Why the speed and stealth? Let's take 30 to 60 days to get an impact study done so we know what's in this deal for Cobb County's residents.

This is moving way too fast.
Old timer
November 22, 2013
I think this will bring money and jobs to Cobb. I believe the transportation plan will. Work fine.
Most are in favor
November 22, 2013
Love the negativity here but the fact is an overwhelming majority of Cobb residents love this plan and back Tim Lee 100%. The whiners will always be whiners but they only represent a small minority.
Just Wait
November 22, 2013
Ms Reside, thanks for making those opposed to the Braves look like idiots. Jumping into a picture with a crude sign is childish. Mr. Astuto, everything in this country is not an Obama plot. Again, thanks for making those opposed to Braves look like fringe groupers. There is a way to oppose something without shouting, sign waving, etc. You make intelligent presentations of facts to support your position. My real concern is if this deal will or will not cause my property taxes to increase. Your rants are not answering my question.
Stephen R.
November 22, 2013
People can woot and holler all they want. This is going to pass. The Braves and Tim Lee already have 3 votes and will probably end up with 4. The only people on the fence are Ott and Cupid. What is funny is that all these tea party folks who are opposing it are being paid to oppose it by the Big Business in Atlanta and the Metro Atlanta Chamber (which should change its name to Downtown Atlanta Chamber). They grip and complain about businesses in Cobb getting richer yet the clay in the hands of big businesses in Atlanta.
November 22, 2013
Friends, please remember we are a REPRESENTATIVE form of government. Citizens do NOT get to vote on every single thing. Delay would only bring more of solidifying each "side" and do nothing to help the government move forward.

You have an opportunity to vote in or out your REPRESENTATIVES. If we all got to speak and vote on every issue, nothing would move forward. Many of you are the same ones who complain that it takes so long for government to act.

A letter writer mentioned the CAVE people "Citizens Against Virtually Everything". They seem to be an unhappy bunch and it makes me wonder where they can go live where they can find happiness?
November 22, 2013
That does not mean they should not have opportunity to vote on their money going out at the tune of nine million dollars a year for 30 years.
November 22, 2013
If Goreman and Lee th1nk that only a small number of us oppose our property taxes going to support the Braves new stadium in Cobb County, wait till the next election. I didn't need to show up at the meeting, I already KNOW I oppose my tax dollars being taken from me and given to the Braves. It is just so easy for the commissioners to spend other people's money....taxpayers.
We'll see
November 22, 2013
We will see how these people living in that area feel when the traffic and chaos comes in. Late night noise, traffic, homeless, crime. Good luck with that! I don't live nean that area so it is fine for me but when Tim Lee blindsides everyone with taxes to create mass transit, people will feel differently. In addition, when the BRaves move out in 20 year and the area is delapitated and property taxes go down, everyone will be whining!
Lib in Cobb
November 22, 2013
One more time, there will come to need to put the arm on every resident of Cobb to help pay for this money pit. In 25 or 30 years when the Braves want a new place to play, who is going to be holding the financial bag for "Tim Lee Stadium".
November 22, 2013
Lib in Cobb,when are you leaving Georgia? You said you were but you keep hanging around with your negativity. Is there anything we can do to speed up the process?
Guido Sarducci
November 22, 2013
Lib, I think I should be very afraid. I agree with

you 100% on this issue.

Come to think of it,that should concern you too. lol
Wait, not so quickly
November 22, 2013
What bothers me is the fact that this is moving so quickly, as well as questions that abound. WHY isn't Malone and Liberty fronting these costs, if it is such a grand idea? Why do I get a sense that the businessmen supporting this are trying to get something from it? Why all of a sudden do fiscal conservatives turn into people who could care less about taxes? Don't get me wrong. I do believe in taxes, but for the right cause. I personally believe we should move to a 21mil (not 20 mil, which is allowed) tax rate to help the schools. I'm not sure the move by our commissioners is for the people or for themselves.
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