The Atlanta Braves are to play baseball by 2017 in a new stadium located, to the chagrin of some, outside the heart of the Capital City and in Cobb County.
Cobb County government plans to sell a maximum of $397 million in taxpayer-backed bonds for the stadium Of that money, $368 million goes to construction of the overall stadium project, which is forecast to cost $672 million. The rest is earmarked to cover financing costs and about a year’s worth of interest payments on the debt.
Three Cobb County residents went to court to try to block the bonds sale, but the Georgia Supreme Court ruled against them on June 29.
A day after the ruling, Cobb County Commission Chairman Tim Lee sent an email blast to constituents, saying “the high court’s unanimous decision is another step in the right direction” and “paves the way for progress as we prepare for Opening Day in 2017.”
Construction of the stadium is well under way and has already resulted in more than $250 million worth of contracts to Cobb County businesses, Lee said.
It’s hardly a surprise that Lee’s pitching the upsides. What politician wouldn’t, or hasn’t on a project likely to be his legacy?
But Is he right on the numbers? PolitiFact decided to check.
We contacted Kellie Anne Brownlow, Lee’s deputy chief, asking as we do on all fact-checks, for evidence supporting the chairman’s statement.
Brownlow said Lee and members of the county commission don’t deal directly with contracts on the stadium. They are leaving that to the Braves and American Builder 2017 of Kennesaw, a team of four companies that, combined, have built 330-plus sports venues and is in charge of building Cobb’s SunTrust Park.
But county commissioners are provided regular updates, and Lee’s statement was pulled straight from details from a recent briefing, Brownlow said. She sent us to an archived video of a May 26 commission meeting in which County Manager David Hankerson announced that $375 million worth of contracts had been awarded, 68 percent to Cobb County firms.
By our calculations, that’s $255 million to the home team.
But details are fuel for the fact-checker just as beer and peanuts help keep the Braves faithful waving, chopping and cheering for nine innings.
We had to know more. What companies have been awarded these contracts? Where are they located? What work are they under contract to perform? What kind of money is coming their way?
Here’s the bottom line of what our research turned up: contracts awarded to Cobb County businesses currently total about $270 million, according to data we reviewed.
The largest amount to one company has been $102.7 million to American Builder 2017.
One of the smallest contracts, for $20,874, won’t be executed for quite some time. It’s for one of the finishing touches: window treatments for the stadium’s executive offices, VIP seating areas.
So Lee’s statement is correct, but with caveats.
The $270 million in contracts aren’t exclusively for construction of the 41,500-seat stadium. Chris Britton, project director for American Builders 2017, confirmed that some of the contracts cover work on the mixed-use portion of the project, which Lee and others say should make the overall ballpark site a 365-day-a-year draw. (Restaurants, entertainment venues and a boutique hotel are all in the plans.)
If you look at just on the stadium (site prep costs included), the value of the contracts issued to Cobb County firms is $220.5 million. (We were provided a document showing contracts worth $226.8 million. We disqualified a $6.3 million landscape contract that we confirmed had not yet awarded.)
We did Google searches to confirm that all of the firms receiving these contracts have locations in Cobb. But from their websites, it was apparent that not all are headquartered in Cobb, raising the question: How much of what these companies are paid is staying in Cobb or metro Atlanta?
For example, three of the four companies partnering as American Builders 2017 are headquartered elsewhere and have other offices around the country: Brasfield & Gorrie is based in Birmingham, Ala; Barton Malow Co. in Southfield, Michigan; and Mortenson Construction, Minneapolis, Minn. (The fourth company in the joint venture American Builders 2017, New South Construction Co., is headquartered in downtown Atlanta.)
A $3.5 million contract for shoring and earth-moving work was awarded to
Schnabel Foundation Co. The company has its corporate offices is Sterling Va. and regional offices in Marietta and across the U.S.
Salaries for on-site workers and supplies are contractors’ biggest expenses and put money into the local economy. But the profits they make from the job — which are not disclosed — go to the headquarters or parent company.
County Commission Chairman Tim Lee said construction of SunTrust Park, the future home of the Atlanta Braves, has already resulted in the award of more than $250 million worth of contracts to Cobb County firms.
He based that on a project update the county commission received in May — and the math from that showed $255 million in contracts.
We looked at detailed reports supplied to us by the county and the projection management team. Those reports show the firms have been awarded $270 million worth of contracts for site prep, the stadium and the adjoining mixed use development. On just the stadium, the contracts are valued at $220.5 million.
Lee’s right on the overarching point that the stadium project is generating contracts worth millions to businesses with offices in Cobb County. But there’s added perspective that’s needed.
Some of these companies are headquartered in other states, a reality on a mammoth project and in a global economy. But to say they are Cobb County businesses is like saying the Wells Fargo down the street is local. You could argue it is and it isn’t. That can change the bottom line.
We rated Lee’s statement Mostly True.
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This article was edited for length. To see a complete version and its sources go to www.politifact.com/georgia/.