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Swapping the Atlanta Braves for pari-mutuel betting?

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The deal to move the Atlanta Braves to Cobb County involves $450 million in financing by the county and another $200 million put up front by the baseball team that first moved to Atlanta in 1965, we’re told.

There’s a Wednesday meeting at the state Capitol at which the Braves will discuss the move with Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. Here's the gist of the Atlanta Braves' reasoning, from the press release:

Turner Field currently needs $150 million in infrastructure work (including seat replacement, upgrades to the lighting, etc.), none of which would significantly enhance the fan experience. If the Braves were to pay for additional projects focused on improving the fan experience, the additional costs would exceed $200 million.

Even with a significant capital investment in Turner Field, there are several issues that cannot be overcome – lack of consistent mass transit to the facility, lack of adequate parking, lack of access to major roadways and lack of control over the development of the surrounding area.

The key question is whether the financing arranged by Cobb County will hold -- and what kind of financing it is. Keep in mind that spending public monies on stadiums has become a volatile topic. This is the primary reason Atlanta is unlikely to actively challenge the move. Remaking the Falcons stadium has drained the well of public good will.

If you presume that the city of Atlanta and Mayor Kasim Reed were in the loop on this one -- and the two parties were in the midst of lease negotiations,  it would explain why he fought so hard to keep the Falcons in the downtown area. Still, city officials who reached out to us professed being “stunned” by the speed of the deal.

So how long was this deal in the works? Negotiations like this require weeks of planning and preparation. And the stadium's new website, www.homeofthebraves.com, was registered on Oct. 22. We just assume it was a gift to Reed to leak the news after his resounding re-election victory. 

Don’t expect Deal to intervene. We’re told that he was notified of the move in the late stages, but that he’s not playing a role either way. After all, he’s got an election next year and he doesn’t want to alienate voters in vote-rich Cobb County or Atlanta on such a divisive issue. And unlike the Falcons stadium negotiations, this deal wouldn’t involve the Georgia World Congress Center or other state property. As one official put it, the Braves are a private company, and like Home Depot or Delta, they can choose to move where they want. As long as they stay in metro Atlanta, state officials seem satisfied.

Look for the city to treat the Braves’ departure as an opportunity to remake the area as a year-around, residential/entertainment center. And maybe someday, a place for horses to run. Deal’s office is quick to remind that pari-mutuel betting is still illegal, but there are persistent efforts at the state Capitol to change that.

Could it be a chance also to rebrand the Braves' image? The scuttlebutt among some politicos is that the team may also look to change their logo amid the move.

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