Gwinnett Braves parking revenue falls short of county expectations

Gwinnett County's share of revenue from parking at its new minor-league ballpark has fallen short of the fence.

The county, which had predicted $200,000 in revenue from parking proceeds this year, has received slightly more than $31,000, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned.

Under terms of the contract with the Atlanta Braves, net proceeds from parking at the new stadium for the Braves' AAA team were to be split by both parties. The Gwinnett Braves drew 423,000 fans this year. Fans pay $3 for parking per truck or car or $10 per bus.

The county received $22,342 for parking in April, and officials as late as last month had predicted revenues for May-September would come in on target. But, when the final check for $9,188 arrived recently, the county asked for an explanation through the Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau, which manages the stadium.

"We have made contact with the Braves [and told them] we need to get all their backup data which they're required to give us," said Preston Williams, managing director for the GCVB. "Supposedly, they're going to have that to us in the next day or two."

Williams said the contract requires a net split of the profits -- the amount after expenses.

"I do know there were some initial startup costs from the standpoint of equipment to get the operation going that will come out of this first year's operation," he said. "I'll take a look at [the documentation], and, of course, if there's anything in there we don't think is right, we'll challenge it."

The Braves declined to comment on the matter.

The news comes two months after the GCVB turned over the stadium's marketing rights to the Braves when the county agency was unable to land a corporate sponsor by the September deadline. County officials had anticipated bringing in $300,000 annually for those rights, but the sour economy produced no takers. Under terms of the contract, the Braves now would receive the first $300,000 for the naming rights, the county would get the second $300,000, and both parties would split any amount beyond that.

Aaron Bovos, head of finance for Gwinnett County, said the shortfall in parking receipts will not affect property taxes because the stadium operates within its own fund. That fund, he said, had a $1.6 million surplus going into 2009.

Aside from naming rights, the stadium brings in annual revenue from five major sources: $250,000 in rent from the Braves, a portion of parking fees, a share of ticket sales amounting to $403,000 this year, a GCVB donation of $400,000 and money from the county's car rental tax, which is on target to raise $838,000 this year. The revenue go toward the county's annual bond obligation of $2.1 million for the stadium.

Bovos said last year's surplus came about because there were no bond payments due, yet the county collected the GCVB donation and the car rental tax. The revenue cushion, he said, gives the county breathing room -- including no naming rights -- through 2011.

Asked whether the stadium brought in the county's anticipated revenues for this year, Bovos said: "We don't know. We've asked them for some information and to sit down and talk about that."

The county's revenue schedule for bond payments anticipates $200,000 annually for parking over the next 30 years. A 1997 study commissioned for the county by Conventions Sports Leisure anticipated net revenues of $123,000-$132,000 for parking at $3 per vehicle.

"I haven't gotten to the point yet where I feel like we haven't gotten the revenue we need," Bovos said. "We need to do an information-gathering process with the GCVB and the Braves to determine what was the parking revenue. Did they overpay us? Did they underpay us? Have we misinterpreted the contract?

"If we need to change something or adjust something, we'll do that."

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