Since last week when details emerged about the financing package for the new Braves stadium, the rhetorical battles of what was good and bad about it have begun in earnest and are likely to heat up significantly as we inch towards the 26th when the Cobb County Commission vote on the memorandum of understanding. I think one thing is apparently clear as this debate goes forward. Cobb County’s public financing scheme seems a little dubious. However, had we a good understanding of Atlanta outside the City of Atlanta, we’d likely have better options to finance the park. A bad solution is emerging from a great idea.
Public financing of stadiums are not always bad decisions to make. I can remember how Coors Field and Mile High were financed via the Denver Metropolitan Major League Baseball Stadium District/Metropolitan Football Stadium District. In the early 1990s, as Major League Baseball finished the process of awarding expansion franchises to two cities, Denver made a successful bid and won the franchise that became the Rockies. Part of that success lay on the passage of the Denver Metropolitan Major League Baseball Stadium District Act by the Colorado legislature. That created a special six county district which, upon voter approval, levied a 0.1% sales tax to finance bonds for a period of twenty years. In other words, for every $1,000 you spent in taxable goods and services, you contributed $10 to the construction of the baseball stadium. Here’s the benefit of it all – the authorities paid off bonds for two stadiums in the twenty year time frame; Mile High was rebuilt by a voter approved continuation of the tax when the original bonds were paid off ten years early. One only need to visit LoDo (Lower Downtown Denver) to see the positive and lasting impacts the small sales tax had.
Now, why do I bring this up? Well, Atlanta and Denver have a lot of similarities. The sprawl of the cities is noticeable. They are the major markets in their respective regions. The airport’s are eerily similar in design and distances from the affluent passengers that are likely to use them. That said, this stadium deal is exposing significant differences between the two. Whereas the Denver Metro Area united in support given to building a new baseball stadium for the Rockies, and again in voting for the continuation of the tax to build a new football stadium, the Braves stadium deal is clearly exposing some very apparent divides. Nowhere was this more noticeable in the comments by Cobb County GOP Chairman Joe Dendy in saying:
It is absolutely necessary the solution is all about moving cars in and around Cobb and surrounding counties from our north and east where most Braves fans travel from, and not moving people into Cobb by rail from Atlanta.
Most folks from the north and east of Cobb and the City of Atlanta, regardless if they’re wanted in Cobb County or not, weren’t too keen on the deal either. I don’t think any of these comments or opinions are reflective of racism or outright hatred for folks that come from somewhere else. The comments above by Dendy even recognize needed solutions to welcome fans from outside the county. However, the opinion poll and comment demonstrate the outwardly anti-metro area bias that residents of one county have towards others. Regardless if it’s accepted or not, the world recognize Atlanta as the metro area – not the city – and functionally that’s no different either. The Braves stadium will still be in a zip code labelled as Atlanta despite residing in Cobb County.
Why is all this important? Well, it explains why such a convoluted and bad financing package has to be put together by Cobb County. The State of Georgia could never agree enough in the legislature to pass something similar to what Colorado did. Granted, the novelty of baseball in Denver united seemingly disparate factions to pass the law, but Georgia isn’t really different when it comes to the Braves. It’s not as if the Marlins or Rays compete for a fan base. However, Georgia is notorious for a mentality of “to the winner goes the spoils.” It’s what underlies the bombastic rhetorical flourish of Vincent Fort when he gets a chance to oppose anything, and it’s more than apparent in this case, too.
Cobb County couldn’t have won the stadium without taking $8 million/year from the general fund, nor could it incorporate any entity outside of Cobb County to win this deal. That’s why conceivably property owners in the Cumberland CID (which includes our home) could pay higher taxes. It’s why outsiders visiting the hotels in Cobb County will pay a few bucks more each night to stay. It’s why “95% of Cobb County” won’t see tax increases until the $8 million taken for the stadium is needed somewhere else and then taxes spent. Furthermore, it’s also reflective of “to the winner goes the spoils” on the part of the Cobb County Commission who seemingly will stop at nothing to make sure this deal goes through without a hitch, meaningful public input, or even a dissenting vote. However, it’s all a poor solution to a great opportunity. Dissension in the ranks might be a good thing here.
Personally, I think the Braves moving to suburban Atlanta is the right move. If done right, it can be an economic home run for Cobb County. Logistically, I think it’s going to a better spot for traffickers to the games than just off the downtown connector. That said, a little bit more cooperation would be welcome here to make sure the public financing is a little better. As I’ve written more times than I care to count, though, philosophy matters. So long as our philosophy of Atlanta is “us in Cobb County and the rest of y’all out there…” then we’ll have problems like this for years to come.