Atlanta was hoping to keep the Braves downtown as Turner Field lease nears expiration
Kasim Reed: But Cobb County made an offer Braves couldn't refuse
Reed: Turner Field needs up to $250 million in repairs; money could go to city infrastructure
Reed: Atlanta is backing a new Falcons stadium, but it's getting funded largely by hotel tax
Editor’s Note: Kasim Reed, the 59th mayor of Atlanta, was recently re-elected to a second term.
As a young boy, I loved watching the Atlanta Braves. I can recall countless historic moments over the course of their 47-year history in the city. It was in Atlanta that the Braves won an unprecedented 14 division championships from 1991 to 2005. It was in Atlanta that Hall of Famer Hank Aaron hit his record-breaking home run in 1974. It was in Atlanta that the Braves won a World Series championship in 1995. There is no doubt that the Braves belong to Atlanta.
For 18 months, my administration has been involved in good-faith discussions to keep the Braves in downtown Atlanta as their lease at Turner Field nears expiration. On Monday, the Atlanta Braves organization announced its intention to relocate to Cobb County – in a new stadium. Our partners in Cobb County will provide $450 million in public funding to build the new $672 million stadium, we’re told. We are simply unwilling to match that with taxpayer dollars.
On my inauguration into office in January 2010, I made a promise to strengthen our city’s finances and tackle our looming $922 million infrastructure backlog. Over the last four years, we have balanced four consecutive budgets without property tax increases, built our cash reserves to more than $125 million and improved our bond ratings across the spectrum in every fund.
Over the next four years, I am committed to making $200 million to $250 million in infrastructure investments in our neighborhoods.
Professional sports teams and stadiums drive economic development and investment in their communities, but taxpayer dollars need to be spent responsibly. My decision not to invest $150 million to $250 million for renovations to Turner Field or interfere with a transaction when the Atlanta Braves are moving 12 miles away means that Atlanta is going to be stronger financially and not choked by debt. This decision also means critical investments in our city’s infrastructure – on bridges, green spaces, roads and traffic lights.
For many years, the Falcons and the Braves have been fixtures in our city’s downtown. There will be a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons – but there are meaningful differences between our efforts to keep the Falcons in the city and the Braves’ decision to relocate to Cobb County.
The agreement to keep the Falcons involved an existing revenue stream from a hotel-motel tax paid largely by the 42 million guests who visit our city every year – lessening the burden to taxpayers.
The hotel-motel tax, which would be extended only to fund and maintain the Falcons stadium, also generates significant direct revenue to the city’s general fund. In the case of the Braves, no identifiable revenue stream exists that would allow us to pay for a commitment of $450 million or even $250 million responsibly.
The Falcons stadium is expected to cost $1 billion, and that kind of transaction is tough. But we negotiated a favorable agreement for the city with 80% private funding and 20% public funding for the new facility.
So we wish the Braves well knowing the city of Atlanta has much to be proud of.
Over the last four years, business relocations have included the Coca-Cola Co.’s decision to move 2,000 jobs back into the city, Porsche Cars North America moving its North American headquarters into the city, and Pulte Homes relocating its corporate headquarters to Atlanta from Michigan. The city of Atlanta is vibrant and thriving, and we’re just getting started.
When the Braves leave the city of Atlanta in 2017, Turner Field will be demolished. Over the next three years, we will be working with our prospective partners to bring residential and business development that is worthy of our city and strengthens our downtown. The Braves will remain in the Atlanta metropolitan region, and I look forward to going to the opening day game in 2017.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Kasim Reed.