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Updated: 12:12 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013 | Posted: 6:08 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed promises enormous middle-class development at Turner Field

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By Greg Bluestein and Katie Leslie

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said “one of the largest developments for middle-class people that the city has ever had” will go up at the site of Turner Field after the Atlanta Braves move to Cobb.

In his first public remarks since the MLB franchise spurned Atlanta, Reed vowed he would “not leave a vacant Ted” and said the facility would be torn down in 2017. He also vowed that he wouldn’t interfere with Cobb’s negotiations, but said he wanted to project an “unmistakable message” that the city wants the Braves to remain.

Still, he said, the city has been planning a replacement for the stadium for months, and he promises a major announcement in the next few months that he vows will validate his decision.

“We’re not walking around here moping. I hate losing. But there are times when other people make plays,” he said, adding: “We’re not losing anything. The Braves are still in the region so I don’t feel like this is a loss.”

Reed said the Braves asked for between $150 million and $250 million for infrastructure improvements for the team to remain downtown. He said that would have left the city “absolutely cash-strapped” and unable to chip away at a nearly $1 billion infrastructure backlog.

“Atlanta is not that liberal with our spending,” said the mayor.

He also addressed criticism that he focused too much on keeping the Falcons downtown while the Braves quietly negotiated a path to the ‘burbs.

“I fundamentally believe that people elect leaders to win for them. And so I certainly wanted the Atlanta Braves to stay in the city of Atlanta,” Reed said. “But I want to be very clear: There’s not a difference in treatment between the deal we negotiated with the Falcons and the Braves.”

His remarks come amid growing criticism from some residents and leaders who worry Reed didn’t do enough to convince the team to stay. Rep. John Lewis said Tuesday that the city should explore any options it might have to keep the franchise.

“I don’t know how much more the city could do, or should do,” Lewis said. “But it’s something that the mayor, city council and others should continue to negotiate on.”

Reed, though, insisted the Braves made overly aggressive demands from the city and said there was “absolute fatigue” from city councilmembers about backing a second stadium with more tax dollars.

“I’ve been talking about roads, bridges and infrastructure the entire time I’ve been in office,” he said. “We have a $922 million infrastructure backlog that has to be dealt with. We were not taking this lightly.”

Plenty of questions remain. Perhaps the biggest involves how Cobb County intends to finance the county’s share of the new stadium. Cobb Commission Chair Tim Lee told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he would soon inform commissioners of the financing package, but wouldn’t say what it will entail.

One possibility is a hike in the hotel/motel taxes, often a preferred route for politicians who would rather levy taxes on visitors than residents. Another possibility is levying fees on businesses near the construction site through what’s known as a community improvement district.

But skeptics question whether the county’s tourism and commercial base is deep enough to float the funds for a new stadium. And even if it is, it’s no cakewalk. Ask Atlanta leaders who tied the partial public financing of the $1.2 billion Falcons stadium to higher hotel taxes.

Just how much Cobb will chip in is still an open question. Reed has said the county is ponying up $450 million but Lee wouldn’t confirm that figure and the Braves pushed back on that assertion on Tuesday, saying in a statement the team will pay a “significant amount of the expense” but that the exact number has yet to be finalized.

(Reed said he got the $450 million figure from officials involved in the negotiations.)

The AJC will also be talking to community leaders and neighbors of Turner Field to start exploring ideas about what can be done with the stadium and the acres of parking lots that surround them if the Braves do bolt. Some say the franchise’s departure could be a blessing in disguise for the hard-luck neighborhood, dreams of redevelopment have long gone unanswered.

And all eyes will soon turn to the Nov. 26 Cobb County Commission meeting, where Lee intends to ask commissioners to give final approval to whatever plan he and his allies develop. Voters are already demanding more details on how their tax dollars could be spent.

Fresh off his own lengthy City Hall fight to secure $200 million to help build the Falcons stadium, Reed had this message for Cobb’s commissioners:

“I just lived it. Welcome to the club, baby.”

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