Cobb County leaders say revenues from the Braves Stadium are better than expected. But a Channel 2 investigation found the stadium is nowhere near paying for itself.
SunTrust Park is a $600 million stadium paid for with private and public money but some Cobb County residents say there’s too much public money in the deal.
“This is corporate welfare as one of its finest examples,” resident Jim Astuto said.
We met Astuto at a public hearing about new fees for senior citizens. It was a standing-room only crowd. One senior told Commission Chairman Mike Boyce, “All of us are on fixed incomes for the most part.”
The county is looking for ways to fill a $30 million hole in its budget at the same time taxpayer money is funneled into the new stadium.
Another resident asked Boyce, “Why are you Micky-Mousing around with fees rather than dealing with the current $8.5 million problem with the Braves?”
He’s referring to the tax money used each year to pay the stadium debt. For 2018, more than $6.4 million of that will come from property taxes. Rental car fees bring in another $590,000 and a hotel tax is expected to bring in about $1.7 million.
“Pretty soon, you realize that the financial benefits aren’t there,” Kennesaw State University sports economist J.C. Bradbury told Channel 2 reporter Dave Huddleston.
He says municipalities that build a team’s stadium never see the financial windfall they were promised.
In 2005, the Braves AA team got a brand-new stadium in Pearl, Mississippi. The city’s bond rating later took a hit and it just had layoffs.
In 2008, Gwinnett County paid $60 million to build Coolray Field. The county administrator at the time said the ballpark would pay for itself from day one. It hasn’t come close.
“That’s fine if politicians say we would like to raise your taxes to bring a sports team to town,” Bradbury told Huddleston. “But that’s never how it’s sold.”
Mike Plant is president of Braves Development and was a key part of all three stadium deals. He says the other two stadiums have had challenges, but SunTrust Park is unique.
“We’re completely different. We created a 365-degree destination, and this destination is alive and well, regardless of the 81 games we play during the year,” Plant told Huddleston.
Plant says the first year of operation was better than expected, and as development in the area expands, he says it will even get better.
“It’s a simple math equation. It’s called property tax, sales tax, liquor tax, business licenses, building permits, all that goes into the county’s coffers,” Plant said.
But Plant says he understands a deal done so quickly and without much public input will always have its critics.
Lisa Cupid was the only one on the County Commission to vote against the Braves deal.
“For those that thought this was going to be a financial windfall, you know, that remains to be seen,” Cupid said.
She says she wants the stadium to succeed, but admits many taxpayers will consider success one way:
“The best way to show that, is to show increased county services, and we’re not there yet.”