Might a Washington-style overhaul happen in Cobb County?

In 2004, Major League Baseball entertained offers to relocate the Montreal Expos (who were actually a good team at one point) to a variety of locations.  Eventually, MLB settled on Washington, DC with the lure of a publicly financed ballpark that left little for the owners of the franchise to worry about – at least in terms of what they’d be on the hook for.  In the end, the prospect of public financing tanked three city council elections for incumbents and even gave the chance for Marion Barry to make a comeback politically.  The change in the city council makeup changed the dynamics of the stadium financing deal, and Washington almost lost the relocated franchise.

DC’s primary elections were held before any vote took place on the stadium deal.  Former Mayor Marion Barry won 57% of the vote in his primary, and Vincent Gray took 50%.  Political newcomer (at the time) Kwame Brown trounced a fourteen-year incumbent in the district’s at-large seat by 22 points.  They focused on a populist message, something fed significantly by the stadium controversy:

In each race, the challengers gained ground by contending that entrenched incumbents had failed to ensure that average families got their share of the city’s expanding economic pie. Barry, in particular, accused the council and Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) of focusing too much attention on rebuilding downtown and too little on helping the city’s downtrodden.

The victories of Barry, Brown and Gray could have enormous implications for the direction of economic development in the city. All three called for greater emphasis on affordable housing and new development for neighborhoods. And all three say they oppose raising taxes to build a Major League Baseball stadium, a priority for Williams and for baseball officials, who are on the verge of deciding whether to move the Montreal Expos to the Washington region.

Cobb County finds itself in similar circumstances if not identical.  Vocal opponents are upset about the financing arrangements, even though it is far more favorable than the DC stadium deal was.  The governing body is going ahead with plans to ensure the deal is secured despite opposition.  Most importantly, an election is looming where this issue will most certainly raise its head.  May isn’t too far off (assuming that’s where primary elections for state and local offices will be set) and the two commissioners facing reelection contests are likely to see even more opposition as a result.

The responses thus far haven’t exactly been endearing from the public officials.  From Helen Goreham’s response saying “I would think you’d be pleased…” to Commission Chairman Tim Lee’s response of “I need the .33 mills to make this happen…” (you read that correctly – I and not we need this park bond mill levy).  Sentiment like that on the part of public officials doesn’t build a positive relationship with constituents.  Yes, we elect them to make decisions on our behalf.  No, that doesn’t insulate them from criticism or complaint when those decisions are unacceptable or convoluted.

The political dynamic of this cannot be understated.  Recent polling shows Cobb residents support the move but oppose public financing options.  Tim Lee owes his seat more to bad opposition than good execution on his part during the last election cycle.  The conservative wing in Cobb is not a big fan of Helen Goreham and she will face serious opposition in this election cycle.  Should anyone mount a well-organized challenge, she will lose.  The aggressive (if somewhat uncouth) efforts of the Tea Party is showing their muscle in the fight and have a legitimate bone to pick with the plan.  Likely, the Tea Party will be unsuccessful in stopping the Memorandum of Understanding from passage; they’ll likely harbor resentment for those facing re-election come the May primary.

The Nationals and the Braves have a growing rivalry, and smart public officials would do well to call on the history of the rivals to find a better way forward.  I don’t imagine that is going to happen, though, as the “I’m the winner” mentality I previously wrote about will demonstrate.  Tim Lee will win this fight with five votes on the line, but his ally in Goreham will probably be off the board come this time next year…and he might face some renewed challenge to his position from a better organized candidate in the next cycle after.

What the Braves stadium shows about about “Atlanta”

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.

 

Best names for the new Braves stadium.

BravesLeadWhile everyone is arguing about who is going to pay for the new stadium, I’m worried about details that matter like what the new stadium will be called.  My good friend Charlie Harper talks about some of the monetary considerations involved in naming rights, but I wanna go a little deeper.  What’s really in a name.  It’s personality, it’s history, it’s a reflection of the spirit of where you come from…like Philips Arena…and the new stadium should reflect just that.  With the personality, history, and spirit of Cobb County in mind, here are my best suggestions for a name.

Rebel Coliseum

Georgia is the South.  Anyone here will tell you that, and has certainly told me that since you’re a “Yankee” if you’re not from here.  Regardless if transplants come from Wyoming where cities weren’t really settled until after the Civil…excuse me, War of Northern Agression…and the State didn’t even exist as a State until 1890.  Nonetheless, I’m here now where people still believe in state’s “rights” and the Stars and Bars are looked at with nostalgia.  Of course, there’s no better way to demonstrate that commitment to the past than ensuring certain folks can’t even come to the stadium.  Great idea!

The other factor I’m not mentioning here, of course, is how awesome would it be for a Braves-Yankees World Series to take place in Yankee Stadium and Rebel Coliseum.  Of course, the Braves can’t seem to beat the Yankees, though, so maybe that’s not such a good idea after all.  Might conjure up some bad memories…

Chamber Citizens Field

Am I the only one that thinks the Georgia Chamber might really be the impetus behind this madness?  Hear me out.  Chamber spends upwards of $8 million to get shelacked in the Atlanta region by 26 points for the TSPLOST.  They know that the conservative bastion of Cobb County hates taxes more than anything else…but wait, do they hate taxes more than they love the Braves?  Ahhhh ha!  Well, considering the fear that the 75/285 interchange is already a sticky subject for evening commuters trying to get home, this seems a perfect way to say “…hey, I know you guys don’t like this, but….well, maybe you wanna talk about it now?”

What way to better honor the potential partnership between the Chamber and the Citizens of Cobb County than to name a baseball stadium after their wonderful relationship.  Kinda like Brangelina…except uglier…

Outside the Perimeter Park

Already referenced are the comments by Cobb GOP Chairman Joe Dendy that were widely publicized today, but let’s see how they can actually reflect the passion that people OTP have about being OTP:

 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.

The OTP v. ITP debate is never ending.  With ITP you get the hip, swank, metro environments of Midtown and Buckhead.  With OTP you get suburbia in all its grandeur.  It’s why MARTA doesn’t even come close to where people live in Cobb County and why North Fulton folks said “that’s far enough” to the line when it gets to Sandy Springs.  OTPers may be a bunch of squares, but it’s a lot cheaper to live and you don’t have to deal with those pesky taxes or Atlanta School Board folks.  Since the stadium will be built just outside the perimeter, clearly that’s a demonstration the Braves hated being ITP and made the move out with everyone else.  Creative Loafing doesn’t like SUVs?  Well, we hope you don’t like Braves baseball, either, cause you ain’t gettin’ there no other way…

…then again, it’s Creative Loafing.  The Braves are racist, and sports comes as far up the list of priorities as buying Sarah Palin’s new book.  Buy a car, hippies!

Lee Memorial Stadium

Tim Lee won re-election on the back of an ill conceived idea about incorporating East Cobb.  Nonetheless, the Republican base – ya know, the ones that send out press releases letting everyone know who they are – still don’t like him a whole lot which makes the stadium deal a risky bet.  If taxes end up being hiked to finance bonds, it’s inevitably going to end up on his head.

So, I’ll fully admit this name is as likely to be selected as not, but don’t bet against it yet.  Other public financing deals have resulted in the death (and resurrection of once dead) political careers.  Should this be an abysmal failure, we may be seeing a memorial procession in the Spring of 2016.

Now, inevitably I don’t think these names will be chosen, but only because I don’t have the money to splash for naming rights.  I’m going to start a change.org petition, though, to make sure the Braves are heard…cause that’s worked before in Cobb County.