Questions have been raised about the process we went through to secure the Atlanta Braves stadium and mixed-use community. Our preference is to spend our time working toward the opportunities ahead of us rather than glancing in the rear view mirror.
The future means that about $700 million private dollars will be invested into Cobb County over the next few years, leading to the likely prospect of lower property taxes for our taxpayers due to a strengthening digest and additional revenues, and historic excitement as the eyes of Braves Country and the nation are focused squarely on a new stadium and entertainment district on an 80-acre parcel in the Cumberland area.
That said, as two of the engineers of this deal, we want to take a moment to address some of the questions that have emerged in the past few weeks around the process we used to bring the stadium deal to fruition.
Everyone knows we didn’t go looking for a Major League Baseball team to move to Cobb County.
The Atlanta Braves, one of the most iconic sports franchises in America, knocked on our door in July 2013, and we gladly welcomed the meeting. They asked if we could help them find a piece of land suitable for a ballpark and development, while having the transportation and highway access needed for the millions who would visit the site.
That sort of news gets your attention. And the first thing we thought when we heard it was, “If we’re going to get this done, we’re going to need some help.”
Cobb County has a wellqualified professional staff working diligently every day on behalf of our citizens, but we don’t keep advisors on staff that can help us navigate the financial and legal challenges necessary to land a professional sports franchise. That would be a waste of taxpayer funds given how rarely these opportunities come along. We needed an expert in economic development law who could help us consider various funding options and make sure our citizens’ interests were well represented.
Fortunately, such an expert was already the legal counsel for the Development Authority of Cobb County, Dan McRae. We both know and trust Dan, who is a partner in the Atlanta office of Seyfarth Shaw LLP. He leads their team that handles economic development projects, and is respected nationally in this field. He has drafted economic development legislation, is listed in the Red
Book directory of nationally recognized bond attorneys, represents numerous public authorities that issue bonds, and is a faculty member for the University of Georgia’s Fanning Institute, which trains development authority board members.
It is typical for development authorities to use experienced counsel, such as Dan, in case unusual opportunities present themselves. Complex deals like this one simply don’t get done without top advisors.
Dan’s role was to advise us at an early stage about the feasibility of the deal and whether it was worth pursuing until we had a viable opportunity to present to county staff, legal team and the commission. Cobb was fortunate to have his advice and counsel as we began our conversations with the Braves.
Dan was a stickler for details and helped ensure we had a deal in place that was viable for the Braves and Cobb County, but most importantly, protected our businesses and citizens, all while securing about $700 million in private sector investment for our community, with untold additional revenue and marketing benefits.
As soon as we had a viable deal, we notified staff and commissioners about the possibilities, bringing key individuals into the loop as soon as possible while respecting the level of confidentiality the Braves required. Dan was retained in November by Cobb County to assist in its negotiations with the Braves, and helped us through the passage of the MOU. His firm did not assist with the issuance of the bonds. Dan was not paid by either party prior to his engagement in November.
This approach is similar to other blockbuster economic development deals in Georgia — including Kia, Caterpillar and Baxter — and around the nation. We understand that some do not like it when confidentiality is required, but this is how economic development works today. Just because the initial stages of a deal are done confidentially, it does not mean the process is unethical.
Despite the attention that has been given to the process, the terms of the agreement were heavily debated in public and voted on in public. The focus should be on the deal that was struck. Through careful negotiation by Deborah Dance, outside counsel and others on our team, we struck a winning deal for Cobb.
There is a public investment, which we do not take lightly, but our team worked to ensure that the public investment is capped at a number that is more than $170 million less than where we started the negotiations. In fact, the team’s rent will be among the highest in baseball when they begin writing checks to Cobb in 2017. Our annual debt service is funded by sources that were conservatively estimated and are already generating more revenue that originally expected, all while ensuring that the property taxes of Cobb residents remain the same.
Our long-term maintenance costs are capped as well, ensuring there is not an unforeseen burden on future residents. The net result of our efforts was to secure more than $1 billion in investment for our county, and this does not include the increase in sales tax revenues and property values
associated with the stadium and mixed-use community.
Our hope is that this will alleviate any remaining mystery around Mr. McRae, and that we can move forward towards the groundbreaking of the stadium with unity and strength as we get ready to play ball in Cobb.
Tim Lee is Chairman of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners.
Brooks Mathis is Senior Vice President for Economic Development at the Cobb Chamber of Commerce.