I think we’ve been had.
I don’t think the Atlanta Braves are going anywhere. They’ve got everyone twisted up—myself very much included—but I’m not seeing the play, here. Though the Braves have their spot picked out in Cobb County, which they supposedly plan to move into in three years, they only have an “understanding” with the county—much less an agreement.
The Falcons recently pulled the same move on the city of Atlanta. Arthur Blank wanted a new Dome, because the Georgia Dome was built when stadiums were starting to become awesome, but just before they became really awesome, and that’s just not cool. The city thought otherwise and balked at the asking price of city funds. But as soon as“Marietta ” came out of Blank’s mouth, Atlanta came running back. They couldn’t have the Falcons move out to the suburbs, while risking the loss of the SEC Championship and a possible MLS team. They somehow found the money, $200 million to be exact, and even bought out historical black churches in the process, clearing way for Atlanta’s new Origami Dome.
The Falcons were also threatening a move in 2017. The difference is that they got the ball rolling a year ahead of time, perhaps realizing the Braves were going to make a cash-grab, too. The Bravos have long been tired of the surrounding areas of Turner Field, but their biggest gripe is not owning the stadium, meaning they have to lease it out from the city. This is their play to try and wrestle it from the city.
The Falcons’ move that gobbled up the city funds forced the Braves to go all-out in their planning. The city would be under intense scrutiny for trying to raise more money to save another sports team, and probably held their ground in negotiations. The problem with the Braves’ plan is that they might not actually have the money they need after all.
The Braves will take 55 percent of the total cost, and an infographic on CobbCounty.org says local contributions will make up $300 million of the revenue, as currently planned, though the Braves can reduce the cost by up to $50 million, but only from their share. That funding neglects to include money for potentially expanding the highways or running Cobb County Transit on Sundays (at least for home games, one would imagine). It also doesn’t state how much taxes will actually go up, nor that Cobb County is on the hook for annual repairs while the Braves keep all of the profits. The Braves sent out a cryptic message saying the local money would come from public and private funding. In other words, taxes are going up, they just haven’t figured out by how much.
Are the same people who voted down the 1 penny sales tax that would have funded highway expansion, the deepening of a port in Savannah, the Atlanta Beltline system and other transportation needs going to have a change of heart for baseball? Given nostalgic nature of the sport, the Braves must be betting on it because the Tea Party movement is strong in the ‘burbs of Atlanta, and they don’t raise taxes. Period.
Time is ticking on what will happen. There’s a town hall meeting in Cobb County on Thursday that will be the first public discussion of the stadium. Both the city and the Braves will be listening closely for leverage. If the public wants the Braves, the city is going to have to cough up something serious to keep them. If they don’t like the tax increase, the Braves will be coming back to Atlanta, hat-in-hand, asking to extend their lease.