Poll finds slim majority would have supported Braves stadium

Seventy-eight percent said public should have had a vote

A slim majority of Cobb County residents would have voted in favor of the $400 million public investment in a new Atlanta Braves stadium, and nearly 80 percent said they should have been given that opportunity through a public referendum, according to a University of Florida poll released Monday.

The survey, conducted by UF’s Department of Tourism, Recreation and Sports Management, is the first independent, scientific poll that gives insight into Cobb residents’ attitude toward the public investment in the stadium, and toward the elected leaders who voted in favor of the deal just two weeks after it was announced to the public.

The poll consisted of 60 questions and was mailed to 4,000 randomly-selected registered voters. It found 55 percent of the 385 respondents said they would have supported the stadium in a referendum, but that 58 percent said they thought most people in the county did not want the public investment in baseball.

Assistant Professor Tim Kellison conducted the study, adopting questions for Cobb residents from a similar survey of Columbus, Ohio, residents about Nationwide Arena. The poll has a five-percent margin of error.

The survey results “suggest that voters who favored public investment believed they were in the minority,” Kellison said. “It’s tough to say why. A vocal opposition, critical press coverage, or the deal’s lack of popularity among a person’s friends or family could be reasons.”

Kellison said it is unclear if the stadium deal would have passed a referendum.

“It would be a very close vote,” he said.

The poll also found a majority of respondents cynical of county commissioners, with 52 percent disagreeing with the statement that “local leaders act in the best interests of the people.” Commission chairman Tim Lee and commissioner Helen Goreham had larger disapproval than approval ratings.

Forty-five percent of the respondents consider themselves Republican; 28 percent Independent; and 19 percent Democrat. Both Lee and Goreham, who did not immediately respond to telephone messages seeking comment, are Republican.

One thing is very clear from the survey: almost everybody who responded (98 percent) was aware of the plan for a new stadium and a huge majority (90 percent) thinks it is “an important community issue.”

The attitude was positive about the ballpark’s impact — 79 percent think it will bring business to the county; 77 percent think it will create jobs; 60 percent think it will create more excitement; and 58 percent say it will give Cobb more national exposure.

UF spent $10,000 on the survey.

Kellison said he conducted the survey because it fits in with his research on publicly financed sports arenas.

“On these questions (of) no-vote subsidies when public financing goes to a project without a direct vote of citizens, I’m interested in finding out if the will of the people is being born out in the decisions,” Kellison said. “That’s important from a public policy perspective.”

Kellison said he was interested in surveying Cobb residents because of the way the deal was handled. The Cobb commission voted to approve a preliminary agreement with the Braves two weeks after the deal was announced.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last month that Lee unilaterally recruited an outside attorney to negotiate that preliminary agreement, without the permission, consent or knowledge of the county attorney or his fellow commissioners.

The attorney, Dan McRae, negotiated the deal for months without a contract. He never requested payment for his work, but did write into the preliminary agreement that his firm, Seyfarth Shaw, would be bond and project counsel on the project — jobs that would pay a combined $4 million.

County Attorney Deborah Dance subsequently removed Seyfarth Shaw from the agreement and awarded the contracts to other law firms.

The story was published after most of the surveys were returned.