When Cobb County announced the stadium agreement with the Atlanta Braves, it couldn’t have been clearer: The total investment of $672 million was composed of $372 million from the Braves and $300 million from public Cobb County sources. Very simple, very straightforward.
Except the $300 million local contribution is really $600 million.
The 30-year revenue bonds issued by Cobb County will pay interest – imagine that – and the $300 million figure doesn’t reflect this. As any homeowner with a mortgage can attest, interest adds up over three decades. The debt will be serviced by $17.9 million in tax receipts arising from hotel/motel taxes, property taxes, a new rental car tax and new special services district taxes, and that gets us to $537 million. Add $14 million for a local transportation commitment, $10 million from the Cumberland CID and a commitment to pay up to $35 million for stadium maintenance and the number swells to $596 million. Throw in costs like additional public safety that have yet to be defined but the need for which has been recognized and public outlays are $600 million or more.
To be fair, Cobb County officials early on acknowledged the annual payments of $17.9 million and the other expenditures. But they didn’t use the 30-year figure in their communications, focusing instead on $300 million.
Cobb County officials are not alone in this kind of minimalist messaging. Ask the average Atlanta citizen what the total public cost of the Falcons stadium is and the response will likely be $200 million. That’s the figure Atlanta officials promoted, even though Atlantans for a Fair Deal compute the total public cost as $1.2 billion.
There’s a common thread running between the two stadium deals:
Stadium deals are announced with little time for public input, and any information that is available is sketchy and incomplete.
The total public costs exceed the advertised costs used to sell the public on the idea.
Once the information on full cost surfaces, the deal has been done and agreements have been struck. Too late.
Common Cause Georgia is neither for nor against public financing of stadiums. Our interest is in ensuring that the public has full and complete information BEFORE deals are final. We prefer referenda as a means of public input; failing that, we believe public hearings at which true long-term cost information is shared and debated is a must. Those discussions, which would include reviewing alternative uses of funds, did not take place.
The good news is that a stadium-project communications plan has now been assembled by Cobb County. Made public in February, the plan calls for information on a wide range of critical subjects that will – if done thoroughly and well – go a long way toward keeping the public informed on progress. My experience over the last couple of months has been that members of county government appear desirous of delivering the right information. The pity is that this kind of transparency didn’t occur before the deal was made.
When it comes to the vast gaps between total costs and publicized costs, I guess misstatements are a fact of life in sports. In the movie Major League, when the rookie pitcher uncorks a wild pitch that hits the backstop, hometown announcer Bob Uecker calls it as “Just a bit outside.”
I think about that scene a lot in Metro Atlanta nowadays.