The Board of Commissioners approved a memorandum of understanding with the Braves on Nov. 26 calling for the county to finance $300 million and the Braves to pay for $372 million. The Braves are developing a $400 million mixed-use development next to the stadium separately.
“Now that it’s happened, it’s appropriate to keep as much information as possible on our progress and our status available to the folks that are involved,” Lee said.
While the deal was negotiated in secret, Lee said the process from here on out will be open and transparent.
“We did what we did before in order to make it happen,” he said. “For us to get to where we need to be, which is a completed stadium and development in 2017 and have the confidence in the community that the decision we made was the right one, we need to bring forward information.”
‘Braves link’ coming to county website
County spokesman Robert Quigley said his goal is to have a link on the county’s website where all Braves-related documents can be found. He also intends to post a schedule with regular updates, which he hopes to have launched by January. An important part of a successful communications plan, he said, is to have two-way interaction between the county and citizens. So he is working on mechanisms to make sure inquiries are responded to quickly and accurately while allowing feedback to be received by the commissioners.
“Clearly electronic communications will be key but that certainly does not eliminate the need for face to face interactions,” he said. “We need to be out in the community talking about this. Town hall meetings, a speaker’s bureau, quarterly updates before the Board of Commissioners, whatever it takes to make sure the community and the county stay informed on this investment.”
Creating a new tax district
Lee intends to ask the Board of Commissioners at its Dec. 19 meeting to form a new tax district that would roughly follow the boundaries of the 5.5-square-mile Cumberland Community Improvement District. The new district will tax owners of apartment complexes and commercial property 3 mills, projected to bring in $5.2 million a year. Also at that meeting, Lee will ask commissioners to assess hotels and motels in the new district at a rate of $3 a room per night. The $3 fee is expected to collect $2.7 million annually.
Lee said he will ask the board to approve a county-wide 3 percent car rental tax, which is expected to collect $400,000 annually, in January or February as part of the county’s annual code amendment changes.
The Braves aren’t set to close on the 60-acre property owned by Bethesda, Md.-based B.F. Saul Co. until Jan. 20. Lee says the Braves have that property under contract for $600,000 an acre or $36 million.
Over the next five to six months, the chairman said his job will be to finalize the details spelled out in the memorandum of understanding. Those details will be finalized in a contract that Lee refers to as a “long form agreement.”
“Basically they’re the detailed agreements as to the terms for maintenance and construction as outlined in the MOU,” he said.
Common Cause pushing for openness
During the public comment segment of Tuesday’s board meeting, Terry Taylor, who lives near Smyrna and serves on the board of Common Cause Georgia, a nonprofit, non-partisan citizens’ watchdog group, called on commissioners to publish a detailed plan of its ongoing involvement with the stadium and development.
“Now that the MOU has been approved and work on the project is going forward, we believe the board must begin communicating in earnest with the citizens,” Taylor said. “That requires far greater transparency and openness than we had in the 12 short days prior to Nov. 26.”
Taylor asked commissioners to publish financial projections and targets of the stadium development as well as the assumptions used in arriving at those projections.
“As time passes (the public will) be able to match what you expected to happen with what actually did happen,” he said.
Lee told the MDJ of his plans to roll out a communication plan after the meeting.
“I can provide that,” Lee said of the information Taylor asked for. “I think it would put most people to sleep. I can’t say I will provide everything he said because I have to look at what he said. The intent here I think is what he’s asking for is for us to bring forward information, and I agree wholeheartedly with that.”
The Cobb-Marietta Coliseum & Exhibit Hall Authority plans to issue $368 million in 30-year revenue bonds to help finance the stadium. Lee anticipates the authority won’t issue the bonds until December 2014. That will allow the county to collect a year of tax revenue from the new district to set aside for future stadium maintenance needs before the county will have to begin paying $24 million in annual debt service on the bonds of which the Braves will pay $6.1 million.