What $1.3 billion bought the Braves (and what it cost Tim Lee)
By the spring of 2013, Braves executives had grown frustrated with Atlanta city officials. Negotiations over renewing the team’s lease at Turner Field were dragging. The front office wanted significant upgrades to the park, and estimates were climbing as high as $200 million. In July, over dinner at the Marietta Country Club, team execs met with Cobb County Chairman Tim Lee. The topic for discussion? Building a new stadium for the Braves in the Galleria/Cumberland Mall area. “Operation Intrepid,” as Lee coined it, called for Cobb taxpayers to pick up half of the stadium’s cost—without giving them a say in the matter.
On a Monday morning in November that year, less than a week after Mayor Kasim Reed won a second term in a landslide, the Braves dropped their bombshell announcement. The following May, Cobb residents opposed to the deal tried (and failed) to voice their objections before county commissioners, who voted to ratify the project. But when Lee came up for reelection to his $130,000-a-year position last summer, he lost in a runoff to Mike Boyce. Lee has since taken an economic development job in North Georgia.
Kerwin Swint, a Kennesaw State University political science professor and Cobb County resident of 27 years, says most of his neighbors are ready to move on, have a hot dog, and watch baseball. “It’s funny, but there has been support, even excitement, for the Braves coming to Cobb all along,” Swint says. “The controversy was the way [the deal] seemed rushed through and [the public] debate quashed. That’s why Lee paid the price that he did.”
The Braves will continue to own the privately financed $550 million mixed-use portion. But just before opening day, they’ll turn over ownership of the $672 million stadium—$300 million of which have come from Cobb taxpayers—to the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority.
This article originally appeared in our April 2017 issue.