When commissioners step up to the plate, how will they swing on vote to build $672 million Braves stadium?
by Jon Gillooly
November 17, 2013 12:57 AM | 6161 views | 22 22 comments | 36 36 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MARIETTA — County Chairman Tim Lee predicted this week that the vote to build a $672 million Major League Baseball stadium for the Atlanta Braves would be unanimous.

None of his four colleagues on the Board of Commissioners would say how they intend to vote, although two, Helen Goreham and JoAnn Birrell, say they favor the details they have seen so far. The other two commissioners, Democrat Lisa Cupid and Republican Bob Ott, are holding their cards close.

Cupid and Ott Cupid, who represents southwest Cobb in District 4, said while the deal may be a win for the county, it’s not her style to move as quickly as she’s being asked to vote.

“I wish this wasn’t sprung upon me because typically when there are controversial issues I like to have a public meeting,” Cupid said, encouraging the public to turn out and speak Nov. 26.

Cupid said most people who have contacted her do not support the deal.

“The majority is saying they are clearly not for it from the comments I’m receiving,” Cupid said. “At the end of the day, a lot of great things have happened in Cobb, but as the tides of Cobb rise, District 4’s boat has not always risen, so people want to see what the direct benefit will be to this district, and they want to minimize any negative impact at the very least, and I can understand why.”

Like Cupid, Ott, whose District 2 in southeast Cobb encompasses the proposed site, wouldn’t say whether he was leaning in favor of a yes or no vote.

“I would just say I’m continuing my review and intend to review the (memorandum of understanding) that we’ll get on Monday,” he said.

Ott said public reaction he’s received has been mixed.

“Probably the biggest concern I hear is traffic,” Ott said. “A lot of emails that have concerns almost exclusively deal with traffic and the congestion that it will cause, and so I think it’s good that the Braves and the county have started to put out documents on how transportation and traffic is going to be addressed.”

Helen Goreham

Goreham, a Republican who represents District 1 in northwest Cobb, said between Monday when Lee announced the proposal and Thursday when he released the financial documents, about 75 percent of the emails she received opposed the move.

“But with anything, you always hear from the negatives rather than from the positives,” Goreham said.

It wasn’t until late Wednesday night that Lee told the MDJ that Cobb County would pay $300 million while the Braves would pay $372 million. Prior to that, the only number the public had to go on was Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s claim that Cobb taxpayers would pay for $450 million. Therefore “the feedback that I received was based on poor information or misinformation,” Goreham said.

A number of emails sent to Goreham include complaints about why the Board of Commissioners would entertain a stadium proposal when the Cobb School District was facing a funding shortfall. Commissioners do not have a say in funding the school system, Goreham said; that’s the Board of Education’s role.

“It’s amazing that people don’t understand that difference,” Goreham said. “People have said, ‘How can you spend, basically, money on entertainment when our kids don’t have books and our teachers are furloughed,’ and I even had a retired teacher email me, basically asking me the same thing, and I had to educate her basically on the Board of Education and the Board of Commissioners, so many of the emails that came in had to do with the poor financial state of the school system.”

What that teacher may not realize, Goreham said, is that every baseball ticket sold at the new stadium will generate sales tax revenue for the school district just as the planned mixed-use development the Braves want to build will generate new property taxes for the school system.

“This is the next major economic engine for our county. This is it,” Goreham said. “This provides us, I believe, with an opportunity to increase our tax base and improve our economy, and take us through the rest of this recession and provides a much needed revenue stream for Cobb County and the school system.”

True, commissioners are moving quickly on the deal, but Goreham said unless details change, she is comfortable with voting Nov. 26.

“If I’m not comfortable with it, and there needs to be more negotiations obviously I would request that we need some more time, but if the (memorandum of understanding) follows what’s been out there, the basic framework, and we’re able to have everyone see the MOU, then we should be ready for the vote,” she said.

JoAnn Birrell

Birrell, who represents District 3 in northeast Cobb, said she’s received about 200 emails concerning the stadium. Most opposed the idea until Lee announced how it would be paid for.

“After the financials came out, I have to say more people have come out in support of it now that they’ve seen where the money’s coming from,” Birrell said.

Birrell likes what she sees.

“I’m very comfortable with it,” Birrell said. “It won’t be an increase in people’s property taxes. They’re already paying it now for the parks bond. It will just transfer over. And a bulk of the financials are coming out of the Braves’ pocket and the (Cumberland Community Improvement District) and the Exhibit Hall Authority, and I just feel that it’s not only going to bring a greater tax base to our economic development for all of Cobb really, but it’s also not just the stadium, but the mixed use project with the hotels and the condos and the shops and the restaurants and everything else going in there is just going to magnify, and to me that’s going to be a big draw for other companies to headquarter here like Home Depot.”

Criticism from Atlanta

Goreham laughed while commenting on an Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial that said it was “amateurish” that Cobb leaders “seem pretty singularly focused on the impact of Cobb” rather than considering the region as a whole.

“Yes, we do serve our constituents here, that our job is to serve our county and our constituents and do what we think is the best for Cobb County,” Goreham said with a chuckle.

The regional thinking rebuke spurred Birrell to mention the failed regional TSPLOST of 2012.

“The regional thing got defeated, didn’t it?” Birrell said. “They’re just sour grapes. I don’t blame them for being mad. Everybody wants the Braves.”

Goreham said it was important to consider how the deal unfolded.

“Who approached whom? The Braves approached Cobb County. We didn’t go to the Braves. The Braves approached us,” Goreham said.

And it’s not as if the Braves are leaving the state, she said.

“When we’re talking about other items, we’re a region, and so whatever we do in Cobb affects Atlanta. But now that the Braves have moved 12 miles north, it becomes an isolated incident that we’re only doing for the sake of Cobb? And again, the Braves came to us,” Goreham said.

Like Birrell, Lee said initial reaction he received when the deal was announced on Monday was “are you nuts?”

“But as more and more information is becoming available, I’m getting more and more emails and phone calls saying they jumped off the cliff too fast, and it really is a good project, and they understand it and are appreciative of the fact that (the Braves are) going to call Cobb County home,” Lee said.

Comments
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Longtine Cobber
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November 18, 2013
I say put it to a vote of the people of Cobb County.I am in favor of more research prior to committing to a 30-50 year deal for anything that has an expenditure. Why must Cobb rush to make this deal? If it is a good deal now, will it not be a good deal in 3 months when we as citizens have an opportunity to see what we are getting? Can it be in writing that if this does not work, then the Braves will pay any and all excesses. If it is true,I am very disappointed that someone leaked information to persons who bought property surrounding the proposed stadium. Isn't this illegal?
anonymous
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November 18, 2013
Will the MDJ please publish an article explaining the difference between the budgets of the Cobb County Board of Commissions and the Cobb County Board of Education, and be sure to include where the different taxes come from. There is a widespread misconception that the proposed Atlanta Braves stadium will take away from the school budget. Please publish an article clarifying that this is not the case, so this matter will stop showing up. Thank you.
Citizen Georgia
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November 18, 2013
The devil is always in the details. And the Tim Lee claim last week that no taxpayer would suffer property tax increases was false. Where the basic details of the Braves financial deal is out in a Memorandum of Understanding, the detailed financial numbers are already changing. Apparently, inside sources tell us that nearly 3,000 privately owned homes within the CID would be taxed the additional 3 mils in property tax. When this was discovered by Commissioner Bob Ott, he let Tim Lee know this was a deal breaker. Accordingly, those 3,000 property taxpayers have now been taken out of the new 3 mil tax which resulted in a $700,000 per year shortfall. As a result, the hotel motel tax will go up fro $2 per night to $3/night to make up for the difference. And the county commissioners are scheduled to vote on November 26th for a proposal that continually keeps changing. At a minimum, shouldn’t there be a public hearing to allow for public input? At a minimum, shouldn’t the vote be delayed to ascertain all of the financial specifics? Or do we live in a county that votes on proposals without knowing all the details until the proposal has passed? Can anyone say Obamacare?
anonymous
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November 18, 2013
I don't know why you had to get the information 'from inside sources' when the following was in the paper last Thursday that clearly stated the tax on property owners within the Cumberland CID: "In the end, the average Cobb County property owner emerged unscathed, at least in the short term of a 30-year deal that shows the county paying 45 percent of the total cost. The new taxes included in the deal are a 3 percent countywide car rental tax, a fee on top of the existing hotel-motel tax and a new tax on property owners within the Cumberland CID that would raise $5.1 million per year through a 3 mill increase." Go look. It is there in the paper last Thursday.
@ Citizen Georgia
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November 19, 2013
Nice try, now get back to the water cooler. Ott is not a hero here. Your "inside sources" are steering you, perhaps willingly, astray.

A Community Improvement District (CID) is prohibited from levying taxes on residential property per Georgia's Constitution. Specifically;

The administrative body of each community improvement district may be authorized to levy taxes, fees, and assessments within the community improvement district only on real property used NONRESIDENTIALLY, specifically excluding all property used for RESIDENTIAL, agricultural, or forestry purposes and specifically excluding tangible personal property and intangible property.
COBB CSI
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November 18, 2013
Shrank Tank

I think the Cobb tax payers need Kevin O’Leary to represent them; a forty five percent owner should get part of the ticket receipts and would also get TV and cable revenue for MLB. The Braves name would be held as well if the team was moved the Braves would have to pay fifty million to retain the name. Rumor has it the Braves are on the block the owner is moving back to a less socialist country. Before you open the gift read the fine print.

The Big Dawg
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November 17, 2013
I have not been a fan of Tim Lee in the past and I am not sure how but I bet he will profit off of this deal. That being said, I still like the idea of the Braves in Cobb. Please don't bring up the argument about taking from the schools. Tim Lee and the rest of the Cobb commissioners do not control the school budget, the Cobb County School Board does. The school board budget is TWICE, what the Cobb commissioners is. And none of you complaining cannot name a one of them.
Dawg don't hunt
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November 18, 2013
To a taxpayer, the School and the County are not separate. They both compete with the bread on my table. I do consider them together. What the county takes, for a road or for a stadium, reduces the money I have for schools, and vice versa.
A New Tax
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November 17, 2013
They say that they are "extending" the parks bond tax (millage). The parks bond was voted for a set list of projects, so they can't just "extend" it without another vote.

Do they really mean they will REPLACE the parks bond with a new stadium millage on residential property for thirty years ? That would sound like a property tax increase.

Mr Editor, please sort out the truth of this and print it ! Maybe I have misunderstood.
no braves in cobb
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November 17, 2013
Sit in traffic another 100 hrs per year... no thank you.

If it is such a good investment let the braves pay 100% of costs.

Tea party republicans offering corporate welfare to the Braves....showing your true colors!

Look at the area surrounding Turner field as thats how the area around this stadium will be in 10 years when they decide to leave for another location!

Cobb Dad
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November 18, 2013
This has to be at the top of the heap for the "dumbest comment award"
rjsnh
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November 17, 2013
When our elected leaders care as much about Cobb County schools as they do about the Atlanta Braves, when they care more about the cleanliness of schools and classrooms than major league stadiums, about paying teachers a decent salary rather than multimillion dollar ballplayers, when our top priority, REALLY, is to have a world class education system as opposed to winning a world championship... then, we'll really be winning the game.
anonymous
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November 18, 2013
I wish some of you would get an education that the Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education are two separate entirely different boards. Not everything in this county is about schools and teachers, and I am tired of somebody stepping in on every single article to whine about schools and teachers. Your comments are bosh. The Commissioners don't pay either teachers OR ballplayers. We will be winning the game when you open up your eyes to see there is life outside of the classroom, and surprise, surprise!, there are budgets and boards for stuff other than schools. Go out to the Board of Transportation web site and whine about schools--that is as relevant as the Board of Commissioners.
SG68
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November 18, 2013


as I understand it no school taxes are being used to support the deal

however

Most of the property taxes collected on the private development that occurs around the stadium will be paid to the Cobb School System.

It is a win-win for the Cobb School System.
A Braves fan
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November 17, 2013
"They" are already on the plate. Swinging and hoping for a hit.
East Cobb
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November 17, 2013
I just read in another local news source that property investors were buying properties around the proposed site of the new stadium WEEKS before an announcement. Someone let the cat out and should be held accountable.
Atlanta Brave Fan
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November 17, 2013
Everyone wants the Braves. Cobb County has a great opportunity. The Cumberland Area needs this type of opportunity to make it a better place.

Don't forget that the Braves approached the City of Atlanta about the needed upgrades to the Ted and they were told "No". The Falcons had taken all of the city's money and there was nothing left for the Braves so they looked north and saw a win win situation.

I really can't blame anyone in Atlanta for being upset but you will have to ask the Mayor why he did not seek the win win situation that Cobb is offering.
Lib in Cobb
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November 17, 2013
The board has decided to use $300 million to enter into a Socialistic relationship with the Braves.

If the board thinks this is such a good idea put it to a public vote.

@Helen Goreman: If 75% of the communication has been negative, perhaps you should listen. Will you get a good job with the Braves or the Convention Authority when you are no longer a public servant? Just because the Braves approached the county doesn't mean you have to sign off on it.

It has been suggested that the Cobb County Brain Trust hire a consultant who is very familiar with this type of transaction rather than automatically thinking this is a good deal. This board is not equipped to make a decision like this without some very good advice.

This board has found $300,000,000 for this project, but at the same time the county has very significant school problems which they are asking the teachers and associated employees to shoulder the financial burden.
anonymous
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November 18, 2013
Lib: To qoute Helen Goreham in the above article, "Commissioners do not have a say in funding the school system, Goreham said; that’s the Board of Education’s role." Lib, there are many boards and budgets that make up Cobb County government. Teachers are not the only county employees, if you didn't already know that. A discussion about schools on the commissioner's page is like standing in Macy's and whining everything is not a dollar. Wrong store. Ho-hum.
East Cobb
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November 17, 2013
It is simply fascinating what fiscal conservatives will do when something benefits THEM. I hope they are smarter than they are talking. Where have the "No new taxes" philosophies gone? Whether they realize it or not, there are people in Cobb who rent cars. That is no big deal, but it is a tax increase. The biggest concern is the way taxes will be appropriated in order to get the funds. When voting, please remember "SCHOOLS." I have a novel idea. Let the people of Cobb decide through referendum.
Facts man
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November 17, 2013
Hey east Cobb. Please connect your brain if you have one to your comments. Not one red cent of school tax dollars is in proposed plan. You would know that if 1: you actually paid taxes and looked at the separation of county and school tax on bill. 2: you bothered to do simple math and see that for the last 40 plus years the braves have generated millions in school tax revenue for Atlanta schools. All now coming to Cobb schools.

But hey don't let facts get in the way of your spite !!
East Cobb
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November 17, 2013
Facts Man, do you really have a problem letting the citizens choose through referendum? Do you really believe that reappropriation of taxes could not be used to help the school system? You are right. Not one RED cent (I'm not quite sure what a red cent is) of school tax dollars are in the plan. I think you are very naive if you believe that what you see on paper today, regarding the plan, is what is actually going tone in place in Spring 2014, when the building begins. Please, do tell, how do you know I don't pay taxes? As the CEO of my company, I have probably paid more in taxes this year than you have in the past five years. So, you go ahead and research the facts regarding where the tax money from Turner Field and the Braves has gone since 1996.

But hey, don't let facts get in the way of your desire to see a professional team in Cobb County, regardless of what the citizens must pay. The process is called research. Perhaps a few university courses might help you understand that process. Oh, and remember to cite your sources.
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