SBD/December 20, 2013/Facilities

Atlanta Mayor's Office E-Mails Reveal City Officials Surprised By Braves' Relocation

When the Braves ballpark was announced, Atlanta was vetting a team proposal
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and other city officials learned the Braves' "shocking plans to leave for Cobb County in a Nov. 7 meeting with team leaders," but they "weren’t prepared for the ball club to go public with the explosive news four days later," according to e-mails cited by Katie Leslie of the ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION. The e-mails released by the Reed administration Thursday show that the "surprise announcement" sent the administration "into a tailspin as it grappled with how to handle the inevitable public relations nightmare." The e-mails also reveal that many within the administration "had not yet been informed of the team’s pending departure." Atlanta Deputy COO Hans Utz wrote, "They will still be the Atlanta Braves, and that is an indication of the value of the city." A review of more than 600 e-mails "makes clear that the team wanted more attention from Reed himself and were miffed by the level of attention the mayor paid" to Falcons Owner Arthur Blank throughout this year. The key sticking point between the Braves and city officials was over "how much control the Braves could have in developing about 60 acres of parking lots around Turner Field." The team "sought to create a better 'fan experience' around a stadium encircled by downtrodden neighborhoods." The Braves "wanted to outline terms of the development request for proposal, partner with a developer to make a bid for the project and also be on a committee to select the winner." City officials said that such an arrangement would be "a conflict of interest and against state law." Utz said that the city was "vetting a 16-point proposal from the Braves when the team announced" its $672M stadium deal with Cobb County, with taxpayer dollars "funding half the project" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 12/20).

WHY GEORGIA? In Atlanta, Jim Walls reported Braves execs "may seek millions more in tax credits from the state -- largesse that would be underwritten by all Georgians." Tax incentives "could tip the scales of the project toward majority-public financing." While Braves boosters have been "emphasizing that the ballclub would pay more than half" of the estimated $672M, if even $12M in state tax credits "comes through, the team’s share of the currently projected cost would fall to less than half." Though it is "too soon to know exactly how much the Braves might seek," Walls cited a document as showing that negotiators for Cobb County and the Braves "considered funding packages that included" up to $60M in state tax credits on top of the $300M in county funding. Braves Exec VP/Business Operations Mike Plant said that the team "doesn't know just yet which" tax incentives it "might go after." The team "had been looking at many of those same state incentives to help with renovations if they had chosen to remain at their current home in downtown Atlanta." Plant also "mentioned the possibility of another incentive, created especially for new tourism destinations, that can be granted only by the governor." If the team were approved for the program, it could "earn the Braves a 10-year rebate on all sales taxes it collected at the new stadium" -- perhaps $20M (ATLANTAMAGAZINE.com, 12/18).

SPIN DOCTORS: In Atlanta, Willoughby Mariano notes Revitalize Cobb, a group of backers for the Braves ballpark, wants county residents "to know that the new field of dreams will grow jobs and money." The paper previously "analyzed the claims that the stadium would require no tax increase for homeowners and provide" $3M for Cobb schools, and rated the assertions "Half True." Similarly, a "few problems with Revitalize Cobb’s portrayal" to residents in a mailer of the findings of a study commissioned by the Cobb Chamber of Commerce were found. Most of the 9,241 jobs it references "will not go to Cobb residents," and "by and large, these jobs aren't 'new.'" The study stated that only about 15% of construction-phase jobs "will go to Cobb residents." It also stated that about 27% of full-time jobs and 30% of part-time jobs in the ballpark's operation phase "are expected to go to county residents." Revitalize Cobb's claim that the Braves move will result in $295M in wages also is "based on a regional number." Georgia State Univ. professor Bruce Seaman said, "The overall amount of wages is absolutely not the Cobb County payroll. No way." Revitalize Cobb "did not hide this fact," as some of this "appears in smaller type on the other side of the mailer." For the "most part, jobs that already exist in downtown Atlanta are simply moving to Cobb." Another problem with the group's claim is its decision "to count 1,074 'nonprofit' jobs." These positions are part of a Braves program where "nonprofit volunteers work for free in stadium jobs," and the wages "they would have earned go to their nonprofit." This volunteer work "does have an economic impact," but by including these jobs, Revitalize Cobb "boosts its job numbers" by 13% (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 12/20).
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Atlanta Braves, MLB, Facilities

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