The Braves may seek even more millions in public assistance

Tax credits could make the public – not the team – the primary funder of the new stadium

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If you thought the Braves’ move to Cobb County would leave just Cobb taxpayers on the hook, think again. The team’s 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. Braves boosters have been emphasizing that the ballclub would pay more than half of the estimated $672 stadium costs. They’ve even distributed a handy graphic of a baseball bearing the words “Braves 55%.” But if even $12 million in state tax credits comes through, the team’s share of the currently projected cost would fall to less than half.

While it’s too soon to know exactly how much the Braves might seek, a document obtained under the Georgia Open Records Act shows that negotiators for Cobb County and the Braves considered funding packages that included up to $60 million in state tax credits on top of the $300 million in county funding.

The current financing plan, in fact, is built on the assumption that state tax incentives and/or reduced construction costs for parking could trim the Braves’ obligation by up to $50 million. Parking construction is projected to cost $32 million, but executives hope to reduce that by leasing spaces in nearby office and shopping developments.

Georgia’s economic development agency offers about a dozen tax incentives to businesses expanding or relocating within Georgia, based on job creation, a major investment and other factors. Braves executive vice president Mike Plant said the team doesn’t know just yet which ones it might go after.

“Once we get into a final design over the next six to nine months, when we really start pulling together all of the details of the construction, that’s when I think we’ll start seeing that,” Plant said in an interview last week. The Braves 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.

“We’ve had conversations with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce,” Plant said. “We were having discussions with them well over a year ago about what we could do potentially here at Turner Field. Those things [incentives] exist here as well.”

Those job-creation and energy efficiency incentives, which can offset half or more of a company’s state income tax liability, are available to any qualifying project.

Plant 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 $20 million.

Longtime state government reporter Tom Crawford noted in an October 2012 newspaper column that governor Nathan Deal had expressed concerns about other projects that had inquired about the tourism tax break. In one case, Crawford reported, Deal’s office was reluctant to offer the break for a hotel that would be competing with others that didn’t get the incentive.

A major league baseball stadium, though, could be regarded quite differently.

“We think we are [different], since 30 percent of our fans come from outside the state of Georgia and spend a lot of money here,” Braves executive vice president Derek Schiller said.

On the other hand, the Braves at Turner Field are already a tourist destination. It’s not clear whether relocating the same team to a new stadium a mere fourteen miles away would meet the governor’s approval as a new tourist draw.

That rebate of both state and local sales taxes would reduce the immediate benefits to Cobb County, which says its investment in the Braves will net an additional $3.2 million a year in tax revenue. An economic analysis conducted for the Cobb Chamber of Commerce estimated the new stadium would generate a total of $910,000 in sales taxes during construction and more than $1.7 million annually after that.

The bottom line: No one really knows what the bottom line will be for state and local taxpayers once the Braves take the field on Opening Day 2017. Braves and business boosters promised Cobb residents the rosiest of outcomes if they subsidized the club’s new stadium. Only now, after a lightning-quick approval process, can Cobb taxpayers — and the rest of us — ask informed questions about the financial fallout.

Atlanta magazine has engaged investigative journalist Jim Walls to examine the transparency and financial implications of the Atlanta Braves’ planned move to Cobb County. Read hundreds of investigative posts on a wide range of other topics at Walls’s website, Atlanta Unfiltered.

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Comments

  1. VanillaDude

    December 18, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    The Tea Party is opposed to wasting taxpayer dollars. It was born in the shadow of the current administration’s $800,000,000,000 spending of borrowed money without the results of spending $800,000,000,000. Eminent conservative economist John Taylor points out correctly that the problem isn’t taxing and spending as it is in not getting a return on what it was citizens were taxed and spent for.

    We didn’t see the Tea Party rise because of taxing and spending – we saw it rise due to taxing and spending AND wasting of our tax dollars. Everyone, including the Tea Party supporter recognizes the difference between spending tax dollars on good ideas with good return of investment, and what has been NOT done in governments over the past decade.

    Now there may be some purists within the Tea Party who disapprove of any public money going towards what could have been a private concern capable of delivering the goods and services – but in doing so these purists are going against over 200 years of history. The Whigs and the GOP, favored investments in public infrastructure in order to lead the global economy.

    The key here is return of investment.

    Will the new Brave’s stadium return the money spent in building a new Cobb County stadium? Over the next 30 years, as contractually required?

    Duh – yeah. Easily.

    If it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be a fight over this, right?

    So spare me your “concerns”. A lot of us can see what you did here. You don’t want the Braves to move because you don’t like the folks in Cobb County, don’t like seeing Atlanta losing millions in revenue from a new stadium, and don’t want to acknowledge that the lousy 20 year lease and the poor results from the millions spent to “revitalize” the area around The Ted was a waste of taxpayer dollars.

    Fact is, just because Atlanta blew it doesn’t mean you should assume Cobb County will do the same stupid things Atlanta did – they got an extra decade to make this thing pay off for their citizens, which right off the bat, was 33% better, and a hell of a lot more moolah. A 33% better investment from what Atlanta got with Ted.

    Reply

    1. moliere

      December 19, 2013 at 2:36 pm

      Please, VanillaDude, save it. “Conservatives”, especially in the south, have had a long proud history of opposing “big government” when it doesn’t benefit them but supporting it when it does. The Reagan Democrats – and later Reagan Republicans – in the south were all New Deal Democrats who took advantage of every single spending program that came down the pike for farmers and workers and used it to get from poverty to the middle class because it benefited THEM. But when the Great Society and affirmative action/segregation programs came along to lift SOMEONE ELSE out of poverty, that is when the “welfare queen” and “big government is out of control” stuff started. The same people who VOTED AGAINST Goldwater in the 60s when he wanted to cut THEIR PROGRAMS turned around and VOTED FOR Reagan and conservatives since because he wanted to cut programs for other folks.

      And the same with this stadium nonsense. The same people who love this Braves stadium going to Cobb County spent almost a year bashing “public money going to billionaires” with the Falcons stadium, trashing the deal in every avenue that they could and actually wanting a chance to vote against it like they did with the T-SPLOST (opposed largely because of opposition of having to play a role in funding intown transportation projects like MARTA and the Beltline) now love this idea. Even though they know that the Falcons stadium will make money.

      Everyone sees through this double standard, and that is why the GOP can’t win elections on a national level anymore, and is losing in former conservative strongholds like New Jersey, Illinois, Virginia and even Florida.

      Yes, we in the city are upset that we are losing a major revenue generator. But we are even more upset at how “conservatives” are willing to abandon conservatism when it benefits them. And enough of this “Atlanta blew it” city bashing. That just increases the divide. Did New York “blow it” when the Jets and Giants moved to New Jersey? Did all those cities “blow it” when Al Davis kept moving the Raiders from place to place? Did Los Angeles, who hasn’t had an NFL team at all in decades, “blow it”? Did Baltimore “blow it” when they lost the Colts? Sports teams move all the time trying to get better deals off the taxpayer. It happens, and when suburbanites like you blame it on bad city leadership, crime or any of your other little code words, that is just southern strategy politics. Well hey, if you are representative of the Braves fan base, then go ahead and split. We are better off without you. I am glad that not one cent of my taxpayer dollars is being spent accommodating people like you and am much happier that my taxes will go to build infrastructure and meet other needs of people who actually want to live and visit.

      So here is what I say. Stay in Cobb and Gwinnett with your Braves. Don’t come to the city to fly out of Hartsfield. Don’t come to the city if you find yourself in need of a level 1 trauma center (and Atlanta has the only 2 in the entire metro area). Don’t come to the city if your UGA Bulldogs are playing for the SEC championship game or if the Falcons get another home playoff game. Don’t use the downtown connector when you take your next vacation. In general, do not use the city’s infrastructure when it benefits you only to trash and bash the city and its leaders, residents and reputations when it is convenient.

      Really, Atlanta needs to abandon the regionalism thing altogether. It gets nothing from it. They need to leave ARC and everything and just join forces with DeKalb, Clayton and whoever else wants in and let the suburbanites fend for themselves. And Kasim Reed? End your relationship with Governor Deal and the Chamber of Commerce. It isn’t getting you anything. Instead, try to get Clayton County to join MARTA. Leave the suburbs to their business and start looking after Atlanta business.

      Reply

    2. Patrick

      December 19, 2013 at 2:42 pm

      As an Atlanta taxpayer and a resident of Grant Park, I’m thrilled to see the Braves depart. I’m glad to see these parasites latch on to a new host. It’s about time that folks from outside of Atlanta started footing the bill for these amenities. To the Braves: don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

      My only regret is that you can’t also take the Falcons.

      Reply

      1. moliere

        December 19, 2013 at 3:27 pm

        Don’t compare the Falcons to the Braves. First off, lots of Falcons fans are actually ITP and south of I-20. Meaning that they contribute to the local economy when it isn’t game day and don’t use any and every opportunity to badmouth the city, its residents and leaders and harm our reputation, making it that much harder to attract new residents and employers. Second, the Falcons stadium will host a lot more events than just baseball. It is a multi-purpose facility that will also host a ton of other major events. So even though the Braves will generate more revenue than the Falcons (though only because it will be 81 home games a year as opposed to 8) the Falcons stadium will generate more revenue overall than the Braves stadium, and will help promote and publicize the city more than the Braves stadium. That is why the city made the strategic decision to prioritize keeping one over the other. (Also, the city was able to deal directly with the Falcons, while Fulton County kept the city from doing so with the Braves, because the city and the county co-own the Braves stadium).

        But yeah, I am glad to see the Braves (though not the Braves but their fans) leave. We are better off without them tying up the downtown connector and bashing about having to visit ITP. I was liking Mayor Reed’s idea of replacing Turner Field with a housing development (which by the way the folks who are thrilled with the Braves’ leaving are bashing as a HORRIBLE IDEA that WILL NEVER WORK … gee wonder why) but I think that I like Ted Turner’s idea of turning it into a park even better.

        Get rid of the people who obviously hate the actual Atlanta and replace it with something that will provide exercise and recreation and activities to actual Atlanta residents. I don’t see a downside!!!

        Reply

  2. Rich Pellegrino

    December 18, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    Vanilla Dude and anyone else who is on the Braves bandwagon with no brake system to slow this process down, regarding whether this is or will be a good deal for Cobb, the fact is…well, the facts are just not there….anytime something like this is rushed through by a few big money interests and their paid-for politicians, without proper vetting by independent experts and public input, there has got to be a lot of suspicion; and, sure enough, when one gets past all the hoopla and reads and studies the MOU and accompanying explanations none of the numbers add up…and neither do the mechanisms for repayment pass the smell test of legality or ethics. Not a done deal at all….

    Reply

    1. moliere

      December 19, 2013 at 3:19 pm

      @Rich:

      This is a good deal for Cobb. No reason to stop or delay it. However, it will not be the transforming event for Cobb that its backers hope. They are hoping that this is the next major blow in making Cobb the center of the metro area (shifting it away from Atlanta-Fulton-DeKalb). What they fail to realize is that sports teams have been bilking the suburbs for sweetheart deals for decades, and their doing so haven’t done squat for suburbs in Miami, Dallas, Detroit, New York and any of the other many places that have drawn sports teams away from downtowns. They’re still just suburban areas with sports teams, and that is all Cobb will be. Yes, losing the Braves hurts the city, but the city is better off using the money that the Braves wanted on infrastructure that will aid the city even more in the long run. The Braves’ fan base is a (homogeneous, aging) demographic that will never live in the city or shop in the city. These are folks that consider BUCKHEAD and ALPHARETTA as “too dangerous.” They are better off with the Braves closer to them, and the city is better off not having to spend more money on a population that hops into their cars, rolls up the windows and speeds away as fast as they can as soon as the game is over.

      It is a done deal and in the long run everyone is better off. Including Atlanta, because Atlanta will still have the actual infrastructure and institutions that actually matter. And 10 years down the line, when Cobb County sees that they are still the suburbs and Atlanta (which is by the way adding residents and employers, not that anyone OTP will admit it) is still Atlanta.

      Honestly, Atlanta proper would benefit more from Georgia Tech football and basketball becoming relevant again than they ever would from keeping the Braves.

      Reply

  3. Cobb Citizen

    December 19, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    VanillaDude called me a prude and a rube on an earlier post. What a guy!
    You are so vehemently FOR this to go through that you must state what your interests are.
    Do you really think Atlanta is jealous of Cobb? That is the most ridiculous thought; second only to Santa being white. You know why? Because Santa doesn’t exist! And economic prosperity only exists in Cobb for a certain few. And I’m guessing you are one of the chosen ones.
    Do you live in Cobb? What district are you in? Are you somebody who is afraid to go downtown to a sports event at night? Do you have reason to be afraid – have you been robbed or held up at gunpoint? Or are you just too “vanilla” to handle it.
    If you’re going to make such vehement statements against the writer of these articles, Jim Walls, and even against me – a rube and a prude?! – put your foam tomahawk down, be a man and show yourself.

    Reply

  4. Jason

    December 19, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    how convenient that 30% of fans come from out of state, but i thought that the ballpark was being relocated to accommodate the fan base – which one is it?

    Reply

  5. Charles B. Gillespie

    December 21, 2013 at 1:57 am

    There are too many infrastructure components in “the other Georgia” that need repair or constructed before one dime of tax money is allocated for a new play toy for the Braves and/or the Falcons.

    Reply