Euphoria over Braves move will fade as reality sets in
by Dick Yarbrough
November 16, 2013 12:00 AM | 1897 views | 3 3 comments | 41 41 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dick Yarbrough
Dick Yarbrough
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The stunning announcement that the Atlanta Braves are folding their teepees and moving to Cobb County in 2017 reminded me of a similar though infinitely larger and more complex event with which I was involved some years ago — the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games.

As a managing director of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, I learned that such efforts can go from “Oh, Yes!” to “Oh, No!” in a hurry.

I also saw first-hand the difficulty in dealing with professional sports teams; in particular, the Atlanta Braves.

Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee deserves five gold stars for sneaking this sunrise past the blowhard roosters in Atlanta, but euphoria over the announcement will fade quickly as reality sets in. That is to be expected.

When it was announced that the Olympic Games were coming to Atlanta, there was cheering and back-slapping and confirmation that the City of Atlanta was truly a world-class city — which it turned out not to be.

Once the rah-rah subsided, what followed was a “what’s-in-it-for-me” response of groups trying to get in on the action. I was not surprised to see a police union official appear before the Cobb Commission one day after the announcement, lobbying for more police officers. This is just the start. Special interest groups of all shapes and sizes will come out of the woodwork seeking to take advantage of what they see as a pot of available gold.

And then there will be the predictable “not-in-my-backyard” concerns as locals consider traffic jams — a major concern in the 1996 Olympics that turned out to be a non-issue — and parking and noise and street vendors and the like.

You can also expect continued public angst over the issue of taxes. The 1996 Games were privately funded. We raised $1.7 billion ourselves and still people agonized over the possibility of having to make up the shortfall when the Games were over. To the disappointment of the naysayers, we actually made a small profit.

Cobb County released the details of the proposed arrangement with the Braves this past Thursday stating that the county will pay $300 million, or 45 percent of the $672 million stadium construction, through new and existing taxes and, they say, with no increase in property taxes.

The new taxes will include a 3 percent countywide car rental tax, an additional fee on the current hotel-motel tax in the county and a new tax on property owners within the Cumberland CID. The Braves will be responsible for any cost overruns and both the Braves and the county will share responsibility for maintaining the stadium.

So far, so good. But don’t exhale yet. The devil is in the details and Cobb County is dealing with a bunch of slick and experienced pros. And don’t get all starry-eyed that this proposed move is some kind of magnanimous civic gesture on the Braves part. No matter what you read or hear, professional sports teams are all about making money and spending as little of theirs and as much of someone else’s as possible. As the MDJ so accurately editorialized a couple of days ago, “There is no guarantee that even if the Braves move here is finalized, that the Braves won’t start playing hardball against Cobb for a better deal later on.” Amen to that.

The Atlanta Braves had a new stadium presented to them following the 1996 Games that was intended to keep them in downtown Atlanta after they had threatened to move to the suburbs. It was ACOG CEO Billy Payne’s idea — over the strong objections of the International Olympic Committee — to build a stadium that would serve for the opening and closing ceremonies and track-and-field events and then be quickly retrofitted as a baseball stadium following the Games.

No good deed goes unpunished. The Atlanta Braves management pushed hard throughout the process for all kinds of concessions in the deal. I asked a member of my staff who had spent most of his career as a Major League baseball executive why the Braves were copping such an attitude.

He said, “In professional sports, you get all you can while you are hot because when you aren’t, you can’t get anything.”

Now the team is walking out on the City of Atlanta and a stadium less than 20 years old and looking for a better deal in Cobb County. I assume they think they are still hot.

Frankly, as long as I don’t have to pay for the privilege, I welcome the Atlanta Braves to Cobb County. I only wish society cared as much about educating our children as we do about those whose contribution to humanity is hitting a ball with a stick.

You can reach Dick Yarbrough at yarb2400@bellsouth.net or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139.
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Michelle Sollicito
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November 21, 2013
An open letter to the Commisisioners ( I sent this this morning)

I am sure you have noticed the groundswell of public opinion in Cobb County regarding anger that the Commissioners are willing to spend taxpayer money building a Braves Stadium with little public input (organizing the vote meeting for two days before Thanksgiving when most people are out of town, only two weeks after the initial announcement has added to this anger). I am sure you have also noticed that many people are linking the fact that Cobb County Education budget is way underfunded, and are angry that more money is not available to Education if the Commissioners are happy to spend on a stadium.

If, as I suspect, this whole Braves stadium deal is a "done deal" and there is no way to stop it happening, I was thinking the Commissioners could do something to "sweeten the deal" for Cobb County residents by getting the Atlanta Braves (or even the Cobb Commissioners) to make a donation to the Education budget/School Board as a goodwill gesture. Larry Savage told me that this is something that can be done pretty easily - that Cobb Commissioners have made non profit donations on occasions in similar situations.

I think what the Commissioners really need is a "win win" situation in this deal. I think by making a significant contribution to the Education budget via a donation, a lot more people in Cobb would be in favor of this deal (or at least not against it), especially as you make public the transportation changes I know you have in mind for the I75/I285 area which will allay their fears about congestion somewhat.

I really think Cobb Schools should at least get something out of this deal if it happens because I think the general perception / belief is that the Braves deal will lead to a hike in taxes overall (or at least a removal of the decrease from the parks money) and that will make Cobb residents less likely to approve any future tax hikes needed for Education in the future as the overall total of taxes will be more than they are able to pay.. so Education will definitely suffer from this deal.. the whispers of extra money in the Education budget raised via the stadium deal are difficult for most Cobb residents to trust, to believe, and do not sound very concrete.. they sound very tentative.

A large donation would be a great gesture to show goodwill and allay the worries some Cobb residents have about this whole deal. I suggest you publicize the proposed donation before next Tuesday's meeting.

Michelle Sollicito
MidtownBlue
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November 16, 2013
How is it possible to be so negative? If you hate the city and it's supporting counties so much, why do you stay in one of the supporting communities? I am simply amazed at the level of hatred and venom spewed toward Atlanta. Yes, the city has problems, but you need to recognize the national view of this deal: a hypocritical, back-room financial deal without regard to the citizenry or infrastructure . . . everything its proponents would oppose in other contexts. You are why government doesn't work, sir, because you engender mistrust with your sanctimonious, self-serving comments.
MO-Ron
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November 16, 2013
"I only wish society cared as much about educating our children as we do about those whose contribution to humanity is hitting a ball with a stick" - The day you and 40,000 others in your county are willing to pay $25 dollars a day and spectate your kids sitting in classrooms 82 times a year you may begin asking why we dont spend more on your kids education. MO-Ron
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