It was a mixing bowl of celebration and outrage when the Atlanta Braves announced in 2013 they’d be moving out of Atlanta and into the Cobb suburbs. The celebration came from many in Cobb, who welcomed the opportunity to see Major League Baseball in their backyard and foresaw the benefits it would bring. The outrage came from those in Atlanta aghast at losing the team and those in Cobb who viewed the stadium as nothing more than a tax-hiking, traffic-congesting, resource-draining boondoggle.
Two weeks later, the Cobb Board of Commissioners voted 4 to 1 to pay $300 million of the $672 million cost to build SunTrust Park.
Ever since, the debate has raged: Will it pay off?
Now that the development is in its second year of life, the Cobb Chamber of Commerce commissioned a Georgia Tech researcher to answer the question.
Dr. Alfie Meek, director of the Center for Economic Development Research at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, released his findings to a gaggle of media and chamber brass Tuesday. Meek analyzed three components in his 20-year analysis: the stadium itself, the adjacent Battery Atlanta entertainment district and the impact the development has had on surrounding property, also known as the halo effect.
Stadiums aren’t moneymakers for their communities. And that’s the case with SunTrust Park. Dr. Meek’s 20-year analysis shows new county expenses will exceed new county revenues by an average of $7.4 million each year.
The news is better for the Cobb School District. Without responsibility for any stadium debt or infrastructure costs, the schools will net an average $1.6 million annually.
Remember, every $10 beer sold at the stadium and the Battery results in a dime going to both the schools and the county via their SPLOSTs.
The Atlanta Braves never intended to simply build a standalone stadium in Cobb. Next door they’ve crafted a private $700-million entertainment district that’s proven to be an economic engine for both the county government and school system.
With The Battery Atlanta, Meek found county revenues exceeding expenses by about $7.3 million annually. The Battery’s 531 on-site residential units and the 4,700 new jobs means more students and adds to school system expenses. Even so, the analysis found annual revenues to the schools exceed expenses by $4.7 million.
THE HALO EFFECT
The third piece is the halo effect. Meek sets the net annual fiscal impact the development has on the surrounding property at $4 million for the county and $8.7 million for the school system.
Cumberland was known as the “platinum triangle” long before the Braves moved there, thanks in large part to the work of the Cumberland Community Improvement District. To determine benefits beyond the area’s expected natural development, the report factored in the growth rates of the county and the nearby Perimeter CID. The analysis found that at a minimum, the county government is better off by $4 million per year as a result of SunTrust Park and the Battery, while the school system sees new revenues of $14.9 million per year.
With the development expected to bring in $18.9 million a year to Cobb County over the next two decades, it’s difficult to describe SunTrust Park and The Battery Atlanta as anything less than successful. There are still naysayers who will try, but had the stadium paid for itself in one year, the cynics would still find fault with something somewhere, somehow.
Despite this constant, albeit minor, undercurrent of rumbling, the Cobb-Braves relationship has been strong. A minor blip arose earlier this month when Braves attorneys played tough and whined that the county was delinquent on money owed. It seems counsel had forgotten that Cobb taxpayers have already built a big chunk of their stadium.
Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the two sides came to terms in the county’s favor.
The rosy report further raises the tangential question of the need for a property tax hike hoisted onto taxpayers by county commissioners in July.
Between the new revenue generated by the Braves, the county’s 1 percent special purpose local option sales tax coming in $47 million over initial projections, better-than-expected revenues from a countywide hotel tax and a 9.1 percent jump in the county’s gross tax digest over last year, it perplexes how any tax increase was necessary — especially one that raised the millage rate by 25 percent. The gluttonous amount of money the county government is now collecting would bring a blush to the cheeks of King Midas.
But back to the study’s findings. The magic formula seems to be a stadium paired with an entertainment district built in a thriving community.
Commissioner Bob Ott, whose District 2 includes SunTrust Park, affirmed the benefits of the Braves.
“I think that you can see in the study that all the expenses that people talk about — the police, the bridge, the money for infrastructure problems — all that is included in this study, and even with those numbers, it’s positive.”
Cobb County and the Braves are still in the honeymoon of a 30-year marriage. If Year 1 and 2 are indicators, it will be a long, fruitful partnership.