It’s now clear Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee, Cobb-Marietta Exhibit Hall Authority Chair Earl Smith and top Chamber officials had been working toward such a possibility for months and that Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin and the other commissioners had been brought into the loop in recent weeks. But the secrecy would have done the planners of the D-Day Invasion proud. The news was so stunning that several of those who commented on the MDJonline.com website after the initial bulletin was posted asked if it was a hoax, with one even warning that the site had been hacked.
PUBLIC OPINION was overwhelmingly euphoric in the early hours, although that was tempered by notes of skepticism in some quarters later in the day after it was reported by The Associated Press and others that Cobb County had pledged $450 million toward the new stadium complex just off the confluence of I-75/I-285 and Cobb Parkway.
That’s a figure that might cause “sticker shock” once the excitement of the announcement begins to wear off. On the other hand, local voters proved once again last week, courtesy of their approval of a $68 million redevelopment bond in Marietta, that they are willing to pay higher taxes for infrastructure improvements if they are persuaded they are needed and if they fully trust those who’ll be controlling the purse strings.
Lee declined Monday to say what the county has promised the Braves, although it’s a good bet it involves bonds issued by the Exhibit Hall Authority. He’s expected to release full details of the agreement later this week. Lee clearly is banking that property and sales tax revenues from the project and the surge of development it spins off will make the deal a winner.
Atlanta leaders had hoped for the same sort of “halo effect” when Turner Field was built in the mid-1990s. It never materialized. That neighborhood was shabby then and is shabby now. But things will be different here. The new stadium’s neighbors include the glittering Galleria/Cumberland office towers and mall, as well as strip shopping centers along Cobb Parkway that may be long in the tooth but remain viable. In other words, Cobb has a much stronger base on which to build. It’s conceivable that those strip centers will be upgraded and nearby garden apartment complexes that date to the early 1970s renovated or replaced.
THERE’S NO QUESTION that the Braves complex eventually would represent a sales tax boon for unincorporated Cobb, for Smyrna and to a lesser extent for Marietta (whose city limits extend down to Terrell Mill Road). It also would mean a windfall to the Cumberland Improvement District, which levies a 5-mill property tax on business and commercial property owners with its boundaries.
WHO ARE THE OTHER WINNERS and losers?
Winners: Braves fans, who won’t have to drive all the way downtown anymore.
Losers: Atlanta-centric media and politicians. To hear their reaction, you’d think the Braves had announced a move back to Milwaukee, not a dozen miles up the road to Cobb. As one Mariettan put it, “They preach ‘regionalism’ down there all the time — but they only mean it if it means business coming into Atlanta.”
Winner: Cobb’s image. No, the team won’t be known as “The Smyrna Braves.” But having such a well-known, well-regarded corporation based here is a huge plus, seeing as how other corporate giants in Cobb choose to keep a fairly low profile (Genuine Parts), position themselves as Atlanta-based (Home Depot), or are actually based elsewhere despite a huge local presence (Lockheed Martin, based in Fort Worth).
Winner: Mass transit supporters. Look for them (including Lee) to use the new stadium as the rationale for a “need” to build a budget-busting Bus Rapid Transit line down the 41 right-of-way and extend MARTA rail north to Cobb.
Winner: Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin. Tumlin had to bite his tongue during the recent election and $68 million redevelopment bond referendum, even though his prospects and the bond’s would have gotten a boost had news of the Braves’ pending move leaked out.
As it is, news of the Braves’ move should accelerate the makeover of the run-down Franklin Road corridor and make that land even more desirable for redevelopment. Conversely, there’s also the possibility it could make the apartment complexes that line the road more valuable, thus making them more costly for the city to buy.
Loser: Tumlin. Last week his $68 million bond was the toast of the town. This week, it seems like small potatoes compared to Lee’s coup.
UNIVERSITY SYSTEM OF GEORGIA Chancellor Hank Huckaby told Around Town on Monday that his mind is made up in favor of the controversial merger of Kennesaw State University and Southern Polytechnic State University that was announced 10 days ago.
“We make educational decisions to the best of our ability and we make them on the basis of what we think would benefit not only those two schools but the whole state of Georgia,” he said. “You can’t make consolidation a popularity contest. That’s why there are so few of them done around the nation.”
The Board of Regents, which he heads, is expected to approve the merger at its meeting today. The Regents have been working on the merger for a couple of months, he said, using the same guidelines it used on earlier mergers.
“This is not our first rodeo,” he said. “Common sense tells me that if you eliminate one administrative structure that you’ll save money. You’re not going to have two presidents.”
Those savings (which averaged around $9 million a year) will be reinvested in academics, teaching and research, he said.
The Regents seem to be on a “bigger is better” approach, but Huckaby said merging Georgia State University and nearby Georgia Tech is not on the radar.
“I hadn’t thought about that one, but that would leave you with a school of about 80,000 students,” he said. “I’m not sure that would make any sense at this point. We’d have to analyze whether that would really advance academic enterprise.”
The KSU/SPSU merger has provoked anger at SPSU and Huckaby conceded that “I doubt there’s anything I can say that would make them happy.”
WHAT ABOUT the decision to retain the KSU name for the merged school?
“Kennesaw State’s trajectory is a very positive one,” he answered. “Not just in the region, but in the country. And that’s a trademark that will be well served, and the students will be well served.”
SPSU students and faculty feel the same way about their school, AT noted.
“I understand and appreciate that. They’re loyal to their school. But in the circles of higher education, I can assure you that’s not true.”
He added there remains the possibility that the engineering school at the new KSU might be called “the Southern Tech College (sic) at Kennesaw State University.”
Concluded Huckaby, “We wouldn’t have done it we felt it was going to diminish the mission of Southern Poly in any way. But I’ve felt for a long time that Southern Poly did not get the attention it deserved, given the kind of programs they offer there.”
PEOPLE: David Bottoms of The Bottoms Group in Marietta is this year’s recipient of Georgia Tech’s Outstanding Young Alumni Award, which honors alumni younger than 40 who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and service to Georgia Tech and the Alumni Association, the general welfare of their community and their profession. Bottoms is the son of Gary and Melissa Bottoms of Marietta.
ON THE MEND: Little Rachel Lembeck, granddaughter of Marietta City School Superintendent Dr. Emily Lembeck and husband Harry, was diagnosed with fibro-sarcoma cancer at birth June 18. Chemotherapy and then surgery at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta eradicated a tumor that had threatened to require the amputation of her arm. She’s now recovering at home with parents Gabe and Alyson Lembeck.
“We are grateful to the Marietta community for its thoughts and prayers, which helped our family more than we can express,” Granddad Harry told AT Monday.