When it comes to predicting whether the economic boost from a new stadium will outweigh the public dollars spent on it, most experts are skeptics.
With many big questions unanswered — such as how much Cobb County will contribute and where the money will come from — assessing the Braves’ plan is tough, but few economists see the project as a clear boon to Cobb.
“There is not a big economic boost,” said Neil deMause, a journalist, blogger and author of “Field of Schemes,” which recounts the drive to build new stadiums.
“There have been dozens and dozens of studies looking for the economic benefits of building a new stadium, and the answer over and over and over again is that they are slim to none,” he said. “They look at per capita income, at sales tax receipts, at job creation — and however you slice it, the numbers are dismal.”
The key to impact is how much more money a project brings to an area and adds to the local economy.
The team has had an economic impact of about $105.9 million a year in the city of Atlanta, according to a recent study conducted for the team by Georgia State University economist Bruce Seaman.
The Braves, who play 81 regular-season home games, annually spend $10.5 million with local companies, pay $8.6 million in state and local taxes, and host teams that spend roughly $2 million here, according to his study.
“The Braves’ impact is more than double all the other sports teams combined,” Seaman said.
Since the Braves’ home at Turner Field was built and paid for by the 1996 Olympics, there was relatively little cost to the city. But the Cobb plan reportedly calls for the county to pony up $450 million of the stadium’s estimated $670 million tab, according to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
Cobb and Braves officials have denied those reports. They have projected, however, that the new stadium will support more than 5,000 new jobs.
The upside for Cobb, Seaman said, will be millions of dollars of new spending at or around the new stadium, including the hiring of temporary construction workers, followed by the hiring of seasonal workers and the ripple effect of that spending on the broader economy. “They are going to get some payoff, in the crassest sense,” he said.
But he said the official job projections are too rosy.
Moving the Braves to Cobb will not shift all the Braves’ spending to Cobb. It will not mean all the fans who book hotels after games will be in the county or that all the players or executives who don’t live in Cobb will relocate.
Moreover, the new stadium will also add costs in Cobb — and not just the financing of the construction, said J.C. Bradbury, chairman of Kennesaw State University’s department of exercise science and sports management.
“You’ll need more police,” he said. “There’ll be more drunken driving and more crime costs. And you’ll need more infrastructure improvements.”
The project does differ from most recent stadium construction because it will not be built in a depressed area, Bradbury said. Instead, the area has offices and stores and restaurants — and the Braves have said they want more offerings built close to the new stadium.
As a Cobb resident — and Braves fan — he likes the idea of a nearby major-league park. But the economic view is still a cautionary one, he said. “Most economic studies show the costs outweigh the economic impact.”
Whether that equation is compelling to all residents may ride on how the costs are assessed.
Robert Boland, the academic chairman of New York University’s Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management, said there would have been little question that Cobb County could pull this off 20 years ago. It had lower taxes and fewer people putting pressure on its bottom line.
Today, though, he’s not so sure. “All municipal budgets are tightly packed,” he said.
But if there is a county in the metro area that could pull this off — other than Fulton — it would be Cobb, he said. The challenge will be to attract development, business and jobs to make the expenditure work.
“This is a logical move but one that happened 30 years ago in other cities,” he said. “The trend has been for stadiums to move back into the urban core. This bucks the trend.”
Joey Smith, an economist at the University of West Georgia, said if Cobb County leaders are thinking of using revenue from hotel and motel tax collections — as Atlanta is doing to help finance the new Falcons stadium — they may be going down the wrong road.
There are not enough hotel rooms in the area to make that work, he said. “The stadium will be pretty close to Sandy Springs and Buckhead, so there will be bleed-over into Fulton County,” he said. “Cobb County is not going to receive all the benefits here.”
Marc Ganis, the president of SportsCorp, a Chicago-based sports business consulting firm, said Cobb County has numerous financing options.
The county, for example, can levy ticket taxes as well as additional taxes on food, beverages and parking. Naming rights also could figure prominently to get it to its ultimate goal.
“If the county is motivated, it is doable,” he said.
University of Texas at San Antonio professor Heywood Sanders said Cobb County will do what municipalities across the nation have done when deciding how to put public money on the table to finance a sports stadium project: be creative.
The county could establish a special financial district to raise funds, push a sales tax increase or increase an already established tax. Some governments have even tried using electronic gambling revenue as a financing vehicle, he said.
But he said increasing property taxes is a nonstarter.
Said Sanders, “I have a great deal of faith in local government to craft deals and wiggle around voters.”