Update: A Cobb Galleria Authority committee Wednesday approved the design of the pedestrian and transit bridge over Interstate 285 that will connect the Braves stadium and entertainment complex with the county’s convention and performing arts centers.
The Galleria’s real estate committee unanimously approved the design, providing that the county pays for any land taken, pays for all construction, maintenance, repair, security and replacemetn costs; and assumes all liability. The Galleria’s full board will vote on bridge approval next week.
The Galleria committee’s action came one day after Cobb commissioners approved the design design at their regular meeting Tuesday night.
The commission vote allows the project to move forward; a project budget and funding sources will be approved later. But the preliminary construction budget is $9.8 million — an amount that does not include the $800,000 already spent on bridge design or an unknown amount for the purchase of property that will be necessary to build the structure.
The Cumberland Community Improvement District, a business district in the area, has agreed to pay $5 million toward the construction costs. The county will use Federal Transit Administration funds will cover $4 million; the Braves are contributing $380,000.
Each of the five commissioners said the bridge is critical for pedestrian safety — mainly for thousands of fans going to games, but also for routine walks to restaurants, the mall or shows on non-game days.
Rich Pellegrino, an outspoken activist and frequent critic of the commission, was escorted out of the commission chambers when he shouted down commissioners as providing “corporate welfare” to the Braves with their bridge votes.
“I am supportive of moving forward, but remain cautiously optimistic that as far as cost, (Cobb) taxpayers will not be paying for it,” Commissioner Bob Ott said.
Commission Chairman Tim Lee said any additional costs would have to be approved by commissioners.
To read more about the bridge, and the votes approving the design, go to myAJC.com.
In other commission action Tuesday, commissioners unanimously approved having county staff review potential properties that could be bought and protected in perpetuity as parkland or undeveloped green space.
County voters in 2008 approved the purchase of $40 million in green space, but those bonds never were issued because of the Great Recession. County finance director Jim Pehrson was booed Tuesday by a packed audience at the commission meeting when he told commissioners that a maximum of $29 million in bonds can be issued for green space because of the way the referendum was written.
Pehrson’s office has identified $19 million in funding that could be used without raising property taxes.
As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has previously reported, the county issued $40 million to buy green space after a 2006 referendum. Those bonds, funded with a .33-mill property tax levy, will be paid off late this year and early next. The county has dedicated two-thirds of that amount to paying debt on SunTrust Park construction, leaving just 1 mill — or $19 million — for green space.
Eight people spoke in favor of the county issuing the full $40 million, but Commission Chairman Tim Lee said he would not support a tax increase for the green space program.
Linda Bell, a retired school psychologist who lives in Mableton, called the commission’s concern about raising taxes a “smoke screen.”
“I don’t believe this is impossible, if you have the will to do it,” Bell said. “Voters voted for this, and they voted for $40 million.”