published Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Cobb County commissioners approve plan for new Atlanta Braves stadium

Frank Wren, Atlanta Braves general manager, left, and John Schuerholz, Braves president, talk with Mike Plant, right, executive vice president of business operations before the start of a Cobb County commission hearing on a proposed plan to build the team a new baseball stadium in the county on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, in Marietta, Ga.
Frank Wren, Atlanta Braves general manager, left, and John Schuerholz, Braves president, talk with Mike Plant, right, executive vice president of business operations before the start of a Cobb County commission hearing on a proposed plan to build the team a new baseball stadium in the county on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, in Marietta, Ga.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

MARIETTA, Ga. — Cobb County commissioners took a big step toward building a new $672 million stadium for the Atlanta Braves Tuesday night.

The commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the entry into a memorandum of understanding with the baseball team at their meeting.

The deal calls for hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds to help pay for the stadium and entertainment complex. The 30-year agreement calls for a mix of reallocating existing property tax revenue and implementing new taxes on business and tourism in the area.

Commissioners have been holding town hall meetings to gather feedback on the proposal. A group called Cobb Citizens for Governmental Transparency had called on the commission to postpone its vote for 60 days to give residents a chance to learn more.

Tuesday night's vote marked a major step toward the construction of the new Major League Baseball stadium and entertainment complex.

"This will establish the framework for both parties going forward," commission spokesman Robert Quigley said earlier Tuesday of the memorandum of understanding.

The vote came amid calls by a diverse coalition of citizen groups for more time. Leaders of the Atlanta Tea Party, Common Cause of Georgia and the Sierra Club, among others, had asked for a 60-day delay, saying voters in the suburban county haven't had enough time to consider details of the estimated $672 million project that would take the team out of downtown for the first time since it moved from Milwaukee in 1966.

Commissioner Lisa Cupid was the lone dissenting vote. Cupid said she supports the Braves moving to Cobb County, but thinks the process moved too quickly and that she still has some lingering concerns.

"I cannot in good conscience vote for the MOU, but I do support the Braves being in Cobb County," she said during the meeting Tuesday night.

Cobb officials promise a new, publicly owned stadium will open for the 2017 season at the intersection of Interstates 75 and 285, northwest of downtown. The team's current lease at Turner Field, which is jointly owned by Fulton County and the city of Atlanta, runs through the 2016 season.

The memorandum of understanding between the county, the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum Exhibit Hall Authority and the Braves that was voted on by the commission calls for $300 million in upfront taxpayer support for the stadium. The payment would come from existing property taxes that now pay off debt for park projects and from lodging taxes, a rental car tax and levies on business in a special commercial district around the stadium site.

The Braves' initial contribution to the project would be $280 million. The remaining $92 million would come from debt that the county assigns to the team, bringing the Braves' share to $372 million, or 55 percent of the total.

The Braves have promised to cover construction cost overruns. But the team also reserves the right to reduce the total cost of the project by $50 million, absorbing all the savings without reducing the public contribution.

The total $672 million construction estimate does not include maintenance and capital improvements at the stadium, which the team and the county would share over the 30-year agreement. Neither party has released detailed numbers for those costs.

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