KENNESAW — The money Cobb pulls from its general fund each year to pay off its debt associated with the Atlanta Braves stadium could fall to “close to zero” by 2024 — more than 20 years ahead of schedule — team executive Mike Plant told the Kennesaw Business Association Tuesday.
The deal then-Cobb Chairman Tim Lee struck with the Braves in 2013, luring them from their longtime Atlanta home, Turner Field, called for joint financing of the new stadium. Cobb homeowners were, through the general fund, expected to pay more than $8 million per year for 30 years to finance that debt.
Other revenue streams, such as a new hotel/motel tax, were to help pay off the county’s portion of its debt. But those revenue streams have far exceeded expectations, and as they have gone up in recent years, the county’s annual general fund contribution has fallen. In 2020, the county only put $4.5 million in general fund revenue toward paying off stadium debt.
But former east Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott said whether the county’s general fund contribution continues to drop will be decided by the Board of Commissioners.
The agreement struck between the county and the Braves stipulated that the first revenue stream to decrease would be the general fund contribution, according to Ott.
“That’s if the excess revenue from the other things are not relocated somewhere else,” he said. “So it’s not an absolute formula.”
When asked in an email whether it could confirm Plant’s estimate, a county spokesperson declined, saying, “our Finance Department does not do those type of projections.”
As recently as February 2020, Ott touted the decline in the amount of general fund money the county used to finance stadium debt. But he declined to estimate when that amount might fall to zero.
“That’s kind of like predicting what’s going to happen with the stock market,” he said at the time.
At a Kennesaw Business Association luncheon hosted by the Governors Gun Club Tuesday, Plant, president of the Braves Development Company, said it was likely Cobb County’s annual general fund contribution would be phased out soon.
“I believe … by 2023, ’24, the county (will) probably, because of all the additional tax revenue we’re generating … I think the county general fund commitment will be close to zero,” he said.
The county’s stadium cost was capped at $300 million. While the Braves expected to pay $372 million to build the stadium, that cost was not capped, and the team committed to shouldering any cost overruns. Both contribute to stadium repair as well, with the county making annual contributions to a fund, which the Braves pulled from for the first time late last year.
In his remarks to the Kennesaw Business Association, Plant also briefly touched on a recent spat between the Cobb Chamber of Commerce and the three Democrats on the Cobb Board of Commissioners.
The board’s three Democrats voted to approve a 38-unit condominium development in the “accident potential zone” of Dobbins Air Reserve Base. Dobbins and the Cobb Chamber voiced opposition to the development, with chamber representatives saying it could jeopardize the base should the Department of Defense reassess its footprint during a process known as “BRAC,” or base realignment and closure.
Cupid, the board’s chair and one of the three Democrats to vote for the development, took issue with the chamber’s position, pointing out that the chamber supported construction of the stadium and the 420 foot-tall Thyssenkrupp tower, both of which Dobbins opposed.
On Tuesday, Plant, reiterating statements he gave to the MDJ last week, said any issues Dobbins may have had with the Thyssenkrupp tower were ironed out before construction began.
“I personally had extensive discussions with Dobbins and the leadership and the Air Force in Washington and the (Federal Aviation Administration),” he said.