Opposition to Cobb County’s plan to help fund a new Braves stadium has been growing since the deal was announced two weeks ago.
Tax activists have joined some skeptical residents in urging Cobb to delay the deal to get more public input. They also think the speed of the process hasn’t allowed for enough scrutiny of a complex transaction, possibly leaving taxpayers at risk. Others wonder if the Braves’ grand plans for a mixed-use development around the stadium will work. And what of the traffic?
The Atlanta-Journal Constitution spoke with those close to the deal and experts in local government, stadium construction and large-scale retail development about the arguments against the deal:
UNCERTAIN ECONOMIC BENEFITS
Sports stadiums rarely produce the forecast benefits, some experts say.
Holy Cross economics professor Victor Matheson, who has extensively studied the subject, argues that the economic impact of sports venues usually is a tiny fraction of what is promised. He said the absence of development around Turner Field is “a great case in point.”
“They have had 17 years of that stadium being there,” Matheson said. “If stadiums were going to have an impact, one would think 17 years would have improved the economic status of the neighborhood it’s in.”
He acknowledged some baseball stadiums have spurred the type of surrounding development the Braves and Cobb envision, citing Denver’s Coors Field, San Diego’s Petco Park and San Francisco’s AT&T Park. “But for every success story, you see (multiple) stories of stadiums that may work really well for the team but haven’t done anything for the neighborhoods.”
TAXPAYERS ARE VULNERABLE
Cobb’s $300 million construction commitment could ultimately be double that.
The county’s chunk of the deal in new and existing taxes goes a lot deeper than the headline number of $300 million.
Of that amount, $276 million will come from bonds to be repaid over 30 years. At current interest rates, the county estimates those payments at $17.9 million per year — or $537 million over 30 years. Add to that the county’s other $24 million in up-front commitment.
In addition, the Memorandum of Understanding states that the county and the Braves will share equally the cost of capital maintenance, repairs and replacements to keep the stadium “a competitive Major League Baseball facility” for at least 30 year. The MOU includes a long list of items covered by that provision, ranging from scoreboards to seats to parking-lot pavement, and places no cap on such costs. The Braves have estimated $65 million over 30 years, but some experts say that seems low.
TRAFFIC ISSUE IS FAR FROM SOLVED
Traffic is already a challenge on I-285, and Cobb lacks a rail line.
Many Turner Field proponents say their travel to a Cobb County ballpark would be hindered by a lack of public transportation. The roads near the proposed stadium site are already congested due to interstate travel and tens of thousands of workers and shoppers near the I-75 and I-285 interchange.
COBB SHOULD DELAY THE VOTE
It’s too important a decision to be decided so quickly, skeptics of the deal maintain.
Groups such as the newly-formed Cobb Citizens for Government Transparency want a 60-day delay on a vote. The group is composed of citizens and organizations including the Atlanta Tea Party and the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club. They point out that a rushed deal decided during a holiday week gives the public little chance to provide input.
Common Cause Georgia, a watchdog group, has called for a referendum.
Cobb residents also have sent e-mails to the commission with their criticisms, as evidenced by this note from Beth Warren: “Certainly a reasonable amount of time for open, honest communication between the citizens of Cobb County and our elected officials is not too much to ask regarding a multimillion-dollar expenditure that will impact traffic, air quality and established local businesses.”