Cobb Superior Court Judge Robert Leonard filed an order Friday that validates up to $397 million in bonds to be issued for the stadium’s construction.
The stadium is projected to cost $672 million, with Cobb responsible for $300 million, or about 45 percent, and the Braves paying the rest.
The agreement to finance the stadium is a three-pronged arrangement: The Cobb-Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority is the agency that will issue the bonds and be the owner of the stadium. The Exhibit Hall Authority has entered an agreement with the county where Cobb will make payments on those bonds. The Braves will then pay to license the stadium.
The judge’s role was to make sure those agreements met legal requirements set by the General Assembly and the state Supreme Court, according to Kevin Moore, the attorney representing the Exhibit Hall Authority who presented the bond petition at the July 7 hearing.
“It’s important to note that Judge Leonard found the proposed bond structure legal and constitutional under Georgia law,” Moore said, adding the Exhibit Hall Authority believes the judge made the correct decision.
Mike Plant, the Braves’ executive vice president for sales and marketing, said the organization is “very pleased with the judge’s ruling.”
He said while the bonds process is a county issue, the Braves organization is looking forward to the partnership with the county and that the process to build the stadium continues to be on time.
Cobb Board of Commissioners Chairman Tim Lee said he was also excited about the bond validation.
“The judge ruled quickly and he ruled clearly and … because of that, hopefully it will give some confidence to some people who weren’t quite sure what was in there, what was being presented, was in fact done correctly and we can move on to the next step,” Lee said.
During the hearing, several opponents to the stadium made motions to intervene in hopes of convincing Leonard not to validate the bonds. Their presence is noted in his validation order, but the judge rejected their arguments as having no legal basis, Moore said.
They have the right to appeal the judge’s decision to a higher court, which Lee said is likely.
“When you have a project that has a profile as big as this, we’ll expect somebody to appeal,” Lee said.
One opponent who said he is strongly considering an appeal is Austell activist Rich Pellegrino.
“I’m disappointed and I feel that justice has not been served,” Pellegrino said of Leonard’s decision to validate the bonds.
He said while he supports the Braves’ move to Cobb, he likened the agreement to a Ponzi scheme.
“The whole arrangement between the governmental authority and the county to me is nothing more than a Ponzi scheme to avoid a referendum by the people,” Pellegrino said.
Lee said once the appeals process is over, it will likely take 30 to 60 days before the county can issue the bonds and have that money to pay out to construction, noting that work has already started on the property to move two gas lines that run under the site of the future stadium.