Braves say Cobb County owes $14 million for new stadium transportation

Big League Stew
SunTrust Park, still under construction in November 2016. (AP)
SunTrust Park, still under construction in November 2016. (AP)

The saga of the Atlanta Braves and Cobb County, the home of their new stadium SunTrust Park, has been long and often adversarial. And with the calendar turning to 2017 and SunTrust Park about 90 days from officially opening, dealings between the two parties continue to be fraught with tension.

As reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Braves are asking that Cobb County pay them back for $14 million in transportation projects around their new stadium. The Braves shelled out money for a number of projects that would help ease the predicted congestion around the stadium and make it easier for people to get there, both of which are major issues. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, here are the projects the Braves have paid for:

The Braves’ list includes $5.8 million for public roads inside the mixed-use development; $5.7 million for elevated walkways over two outside roads; and $2.2 million for pedestrian improvements between the ballpark and satellite parking lots. The Braves also want $500,000 for traffic signals and a truck staging lane on Circle 75 Parkway.

Cobb County, however, is insisting that they’ve already paid that $14 million in other road projects. Jim Wilgus, transportation director for Cobb County, says that the county has paid for $69.5 million in road projects and mixed-use development, and that the money the Braves are demanding is actually part of that amount.

Mike Boyce, Cobb Commission Chairman, has invited the team and the taxpayers to a public discussion on the issue that was to take place on Tuesday. Boyce was elected in November and replaced incumbent Tim Lee, who had been one of the officials responsible for the stadium deal with the Braves. That deal is one of the things that defeated Lee on election day, so Boyce is smart to have a public forum for the taxpayers to discuss paying even more money to the Braves.

Steve Labovitz, an attorney who has helped negotiate stadium deals in Atlanta and San Diego, is baffled at why the Braves are doing this, and said so to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“It is very unusual for the Braves to take these expenses that have already been incurred and call up the county and tell them: ‘You’re responsible for it,’” Labovitz said. “One would think, as this road was being built, the Braves would have said: ‘Hey, let’s use the money for this.’”

The Braves’ president of business, Derek Schiller, doesn’t think that the $14 million should be counted as part of the county’s road projects because a number of them were in-process before the deal between the Braves and Cobb County was in place, and that these projects were outlined in the original agreements between the two parties.

But the two main agreements concerning this deal, the 2013 memorandum of understanding (MOU) and the 2014 development agreement, don’t seem to support Schiller’s assertion. According to the Atlanta Journal-constitution, the MOU lists eight “concept” projects the county is responsible for, and none of them are the projects for which the Braves are seeking to be repaid.

The development agreement lists the same projects that were outlined in the MOU, and adds this line: “and/or such other projects as the parties may agree upon from time to time, subject to funding availability.” So zero of the Braves transportation improvements were specifically included in any agreement with Cobb County.

In a way, it’s amazing how public the Braves are making this cash grab. It makes them look greedy and petty toward the county and taxpayers who have already paid so much for their stadium. And both the county and the taxpayers will continue to pay, not just in their agreement, but every time they don’t have money for something they need, like schools, parks, or basic infrastructure that isn’t near the ballpark. In fact, if Cobb County does end up having to pay the Braves back, they’ll have to do so through something called the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, which is the only way the Cobb Department of Transportation has to fund any special project. So once again, the burden of paying for the Atlanta Braves stadium would fall on the backs of the taxpayers.

But the Braves haven’t cared about bad PR at any point during this process, so why start now? It’s clear what the Braves care about, and it’s definitely not Cobb County.

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Liz Roscher is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at lizroscher@yahoo.com or follow her on twitter! Follow @lizroscher

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