The plan, which had been negotiated in secret over the preceding months with county Chairman Tim Lee, is to build a $672 million open-air stadium using $300 million in public money and the Braves paying for the remaining $372 million.
Lee said the Braves have a contract to purchase the 60-acre site near Cumberland Mall from Bethesda, Md.-based B.F. Saul Co. for $36 million.
The plan is to deed 15 of those acres to the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum & Exhibit Hall Authority for the stadium footprint.
The remaining 45 acres owned by the Braves would be developed into a $400 million entertainment district with shops, restaurants and hotels.
The Cobb Board of Commissioners approved the basic constructs of the deal in a memorandum of understanding on Nov. 26, voting 4-1 with Lisa Cupid opposed.
Cupid said more time was needed to study the agreement.
Commissioner Helen Goreham said she understood Cupid’s concern, but speed was of the essence when trying to snag such a large economic development project caught up in Atlanta politics. Goreham said she’s long questioned what the next economic engine for Cobb County would be. The Atlanta Braves moving to Cobb was it, she said.
Following the vote, Schuerholz hailed the day as “most significant and historic” for the franchise.
“This gold-standard franchise has joined with a gold-standard county as we plan our future together,” he said.
The Braves organization is now courting proposals from developers on how best to build the development.
Lee said it was state Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) who put him in touch with Atlanta Braves executives, which led to the deal.
“They asked me if I could introduce them to those in Cobb County,” Ehrhart said. “They laid out some very clear metrics for me that most of the population of Braves’ fans are right here in the Cobb County area. Then they showed me the $800 million or so of economic impact that it could have, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, this is a wonderful thing for Cobb County.’”
Ehrhart said he arranged for Lee to meet with Mike Plant, Braves executive vice president of business operations, at the Marietta Country Club in July. “We sat and talked for about three hours and Tim and his team put together an awesome deal, I think,” Ehrhart said.
Brooks Mathis, executive vice president of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, said the Braves had conducted a study telling them that most of their ticket buyers lived in the surrounding area.
A group of Cobb business owners spearheaded a public opinion campaign to bring the Braves to Cobb. Jay Cunningham, owner of Superior Plumbing, and John Loud, president of Loud Security Systems, launched a website, CobbHomeoftheBraves.com, and paid for commercials to encourage residents to urge commissioners to vote yes for the proposal on Nov. 26. They projected that the $400 million development would yield yearly revenues of about $6 million in property taxes with more than $3 million for the Cobb School District.
While there were critics of the proposal in Cobb, such as Lance Lamberton of the Cobb Taxpayers Association, Tom Barksdale of East Cobb Democratic Alliance and Richard Pellegrino with the Cobb Immigrant Alliance, who like Cupid criticized the speed in which the deal was consummated, most of the criticism came from Atlanta.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed inflated the taxpayer dollars Cobb would spend, saying it was $450 million rather than $300 million. Reed’s deputy chief operating officer, Hans Utz, in the meantime mocked the Braves as the “Cobb Crackers” and “Smyrna S - - - holes,” although he later apologized and was suspended when his email became public.
And the Atlanta media portrayed the move in racial terms of a baseball team leaving black, urban Atlanta for the white, Cobb County suburbs, despite the fact that the Cobb School District has a majority of minority students.
Remarking on Utz’s comments, state Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna) said they come from “the bitterness and frustration of realizing too late that Atlanta shouldn’t have taken the Braves for granted and strung them along for as long as it did.”
Ehrhart portrayed the cries of racism coming from Atlanta by saying, “I think it’s a convenient crutch for certain individuals for their lack of success in certain things, and that’s disappointing and a shame.”
Regional tensions play out
City of Atlanta officials enjoy talk of regionalism when it benefits Atlanta, Ehrhart said. “Like we’ve all been saying, it’s regionalism until it doesn’t just benefit them, and then it’s ‘Cobb crackers and expletives.’ It’s a convenient excuse,” Ehrhart said. “When you run out of facts, try racism. It may work in some quarters, but it’s not going to work among people of good will and people with any brains whatsoever. It just makes them look stupid. It’s demonstrating their own lack of intellectual capacity to resort to name calling.”
Ehrhart believes that the deal Atlanta negotiated with the Atlanta Falcons left no money remaining to help keep Turner Field running smoothly in the future.
“I think Arthur Blank sucked up all the money that the city would have had to do anything to fix the stadium that it needed, and there just wasn’t anything for them to do so they left the Braves out to dry,” Ehrhart said. Given Blank’s Falcons play eight games a year compared to the 70 to 80 games a year the Braves play, Ehrhart said, “I prefer baseball on that kind of economics.”
Ehrhart said he read Reed’s statement that Cobb County had offered $450 million in public support to the Braves, an amount Reed was unwilling to match. “I know he’s upset, but perhaps he should have done a little bit more to concern himself with a corporate citizen that is worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year in economic development rather than just leaving them out in the cold,” Ehrhart said.