The commissioners also voted to hire American Builders 2017, a joint venture formed by four builders, as the construction manager for the stadium. They also approved a contract with the Braves that guarantees the team will be the stadium’s main tenant for the next 30 years.
There were few if any surprises in what was agreed to.
Yet the meeting was not without controversy.
Supporters of the Braves move outmaneuvered opponents of the deal, lining up early in the afternoon (before that evening’s meeting) in order to reserve all 12 of the speaking slots set aside by the commission during its “public comment” portion of the meeting.
A handful of opponents of the move cried “foul” and tried without success to be heard during the meeting, but proved disruptive to the point where several of them were escorted out by police. They previously have been critical of the financing of the deal and what they see as a lack of transparency on the part of the team and the county.
COULD Commission Chairman Tim Lee have bent the rules to let them be heard? Yes, although he clearly was not obligated to do so. Yet by failing to let them have their say, he played right into the hands of his critics regarding the aforesaid lack of transparency.
Lee and the county also could have done a better job of handling the announcement that the size of the county’s financial contribution to the cost of the new stadium might be more than originally described.
Lee had said all along the county would issue $368 million in bonds. But on Friday it was announced the commission would be voting on Tuesday to authorize the issuance of up to $397 million in bonds instead. The $29 million difference is described as a cushion to allow for flexibility in case the bond validation process faces a legal challenge that could drag the bonds’ issuance into next year, and in case interest rates go up during that period.
While the county’s explanation for the new, higher number is plausible, the “optics” of the announcement were not good, coming as they did late on a Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend. As with Lee’s refusal to let the public speak up on Tuesday night, it played right into the hands of those looking for a reason — any reason — to attack the move.
LEE chose to focus instead Tuesday on rebutting a story appearing in the Atlanta newspaper on Monday that contended the Braves’ promise to the county to build a $400 million mixed-use development adjacent to the stadium amounted to little more than “a handshake deal.”
“You would assume that we were headed for chaos, destruction, uncertainty, failure, calamity, everything else associated with it, if you chose to believe what you read in the Atlanta media,” Lee said. “It was the truth that was presented tonight, and the truth shall prevail to anybody that wants to take the time to go on Cobbcounty.org and read each of these themselves.”
And as Braves executive VP of business operations Mike Plant put it, the team would not have spent $49 million to buy 82 acres for the stadium and mixed-use plaza if it didn’t plan to build them — especially when the opportunity to build such a plaza was one of the team’s main reasons for wanting to move out of Atlanta.
“We have spent millions of dollars on civil engineering, land planning, the master planning, running (a request for qualifications and a request for proposals) process to find our development partner, which we found, and will announce shortly. And obviously we’ve submitted a planning and zoning application for the entire mixed-use site for all phases,” he said.
“We have spent a lot of time and money to file our Development of Regional Impact application, and the bottom line is, what part of all of that has not demonstrated our commitment to do the mixed-use development, which is one of the reasons why we left? That was a material, substantive reason that we wanted to accomplish at Turner Field downtown. Why would we not move forward in accomplishing that here?”
Why not, indeed?
We suppose there will always be critics of the move, but Lee, most of the commission and the Braves have done a good job to date at keeping their eyes on the ball.