While there were a few supporters for the Braves deal who spoke, such as Cumberland Community Improvement District executive director Malaika Rivers, most of the 25 people who lined up to quiz Ott during the hour and a half long town hall sounded less than pleased.
A weary Ott said after the meeting he wasn’t surprised.
“I would say most of the questions were negative, but it’s really not too surprising because when I think of a public hearing that the county has or public comment for zonings, most of the time the people that are the most passionate about something are the people that are opposed to it because it’s changing something that they’ve been used to or something that they feel passionate about, so generally speaking, that’s what I would have expected anyway,” he said.
Ott said he’s received and read about 2,000 emails about the stadium proposal.
“The sentiment that was expressed tonight was similar to what was in the emails,” he said.
Without disclosing where he stands, Ott said he was ready to vote at tonight’s Board of Commissioners meeting.
“I think so,” he said. “You know, the request for a 60-day hold I just don’t think is practical. It’s just too long. They truly believe that if we held it for 60 days the deal would go somewhere else, any deal would go somewhere else.”
To postpone tonight’s vote, a commissioner would have to make that recommendation and receive votes from two colleagues on the board.
One of the speakers to address Ott identified himself as Dr. Hassan Dashtpeyma of east Cobb, who owns a taxi company along with several properties in the Cumberland area. Dashtpeyma said Ott wrongly focused on the financial benefit of the proposal disregarding what he believes will be the negative social implications.
During Braves’ games, his drivers tell him crime increases in Fulton County, he said.
“If you look at this history of several projects, as soon as the popular transportation connected to any event such as Lenox Mall, if you remember in Buckhead, this is a prime place to go out there and shop,” Dashtpeyma said. “As soon as the MARTA transportation connected to the Lenox Mall, I have to wear a bullet-proof vest just to go out there for shopping, and you never look at the negative social implication regarding the robberies, breaking in, violation, prostitution.”
Ott said he preferred to look at the positive implications of what a development will do for an area instead of the negative ones. He spoke of his work with Brumby Elementary School, which has gone from a transient rate of 86 percent to 45 percent as the surrounding community underwent redevelopment.
“That is a positive social reaction, OK?” Ott said. “Filling up shopping centers with viable businesses is a positive social result of doing something.”
Dashtpeyma wasn’t convinced.
“If you look at all the detail, social value in every aspect, not just a parking lot, the robbery, the crime, the prostitution and all the related crime which I observe during my drives in Fulton County, then you realize this is not even close to matching the dollar value you’re proposing,” he said.
Ott said he was in talks with the Braves about building a fire station or police precinct on the 60-acre site where the stadium would be built. Another resident to speak was Jim Daws of east Cobb, who asked if Ott was aware of the research on stadiums and development.
“What do you say to the taxpayers that say that the commission is turning a blind eye to 50 years’ worth of research, and to this issue whether or not taxpayer subsidies spur positive economic development that have almost all found that there is no appreciable economic development from sports stadiums, and that you’re doing this to benefit a very narrow group of well-heeled business owners in the area?” Daws asked, garnering applause from the audience.
Ott said he was well aware of the studies about stadiums and economic development, but what Daws should consider is that the Braves weren’t simply building a stadium. They were also building a $400 million mixed-use development to accompany it.
“Commissioner, did you know mixed-use developments were part of the promised development around Turner Field and the Georgia Dome as well?” Daws asked.
Ott replied that Turner Field, originally built for the Olympics, was an entirely different project, and that the Braves already had a request for proposals ready to be issued for the proposed development to be located down the road from Cumberland Mall pending tonight’s Board of Commissioners’ vote.