Supporters, opponents spar on eve of stadium vote

Supporters and opponents of a new Atlanta Braves stadium sparred in a series of public forums Monday as Cobb County officials prepared for a historic vote that could lure the team to the suburbs.

At three town hall meetings packed by hundreds of local residents, Cobb officials and their supporters made the case that the county’s proposed $300 million investment in the stadium would create jobs, spark development and generate millions in additional tax revenue.

But at two of the forums, most of those who spoke expressed doubts about the proposal.

Opponents pressed to delay the vote, scheduled for Tuesday’s Board of Commissioners meeting. At two news conferences and at the town hall meetings, they questioned the stadium’s benefits and said the decision was too important to rush.

“Some of our members are pro (stadium), others are con,” said Michael Opitz, president of the Madison Forum, a local residents’ group. “But one of the things we have in common is we don’t have enough information to make a good decision.”

The pleas for delay seemed not to move commissioners.

“You’re either for it or against it already,” County Commission Chairman Tim Lee said. “Another 60 days, I don’t think I’m going to convince anybody.”

Lee called the stadium and the surrounding private development “a billion-dollar home run for Cobb County.”

Monday’s events raised the volume of a debate that has percolated since county and Braves officials announced plans for a new $672 million stadium on Nov. 11. Under the proposal, the Braves would move to the new stadium near I-75 and I-285 in 2017.

The move stunned metro Atlanta officials and thrilled many Cobb residents. But skepticism of the proposal has grown over the past two weeks.

A memorandum of understanding commissioners will consider requires Cobb and the Cumberland Community Improvement District to pay $24 million up front and borrow the remaining $276 million of the public share of the stadium. The county would pay the $17.9 million in annual debt payments using a mix of property taxes, a new 3 percent car-rental tax, a new $3-per-night room charge for hotels in the Cumberland area and existing hotel-motel taxes.

The county also would be responsible for half of the estimated $65 million cost of maintaining the stadium over 30 years.

On Monday supporters said the project will be a boon for Cobb County.

John Loud, president of Loud Security Systems, said the stadium will generate jobs and tax dollars for schools and other public needs.

“There’s no commerce on that 60 acres” where the stadium would be built, Loud said.

Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, who hosted one of the town hall meetings, said the project would generate $4.5 million in new property tax revenue for local schools. Lee said it would generate another $11.9 million in property tax revenue for Cobb County.

“This is a very exciting proposal that’s on the table,” Birrell said.

Plenty of stadium supporters sporting Braves t-shirts packed two of the town halls, where rooms were filled to capacity and crowds spilled over outside. But some wondered why a vote was needed just two weeks after the project was announced.

A news conference before one of the public meetings drew community groups ranging from the Tea Party to the Sierra Club, each calling on commissioners to postpone the vote.

“Good government is something all of us are entitled to,” said Ben Williams, president of the Cobb chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “A 60-day delay is more than reasonable.”

Debbie Dooley of the Atlanta Tea Party threatened to launch recall petitions against Cobb commissioners and said her group is considering legal action over the stadium.

“What have they got to hide?” Dooley said.

Lee said a vote is needed Tuesday to stick to a strict timeline for buying land and planning and building the stadium. When asked by a constituent the latest date the vote could be held without jeopardizing the project, he responded, “tomorrow.”