Cobb County formally committed to a financing and development plan for a new Atlanta Braves ballpark, including the awarding of a construction contract, but not before protesters were escorted from the meeting.
On the agenda at last night’s meeting: a series of seven agreements with the team and community development agencies that will enable construction of the $622-million ballpark. American Builders, a consortium that includes Mortenson Construction (Minneapolis), Barton Malow (Southfield, Mich.), Brasfield & Gorrie and New South Construction (both Atlanta), landed the construction project after being one of four bidders on the project. Mortenson has a slew of sports-construction experience (including Target Field and the new Minnesota Vikings stadium), as does Barton Malow. Populous will oversee design of the new ballpark.
The contracts are binding, which means the Braves are now committed to a 30-year lease with the county on the new-ballpark project, with the county committed to bonding up to $397 million. (You can see the county documentation on the seven resolutions here.) That commitment was evident earlier, as the team has already spent $70 million on land acquisition and planning for the mixed-use portion of the project, which will include retail, office, housing and a hotel. That commitment was questioned earlier in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report indicating there was no contractual obligation from the Braves to actually move forward with the mixed-use development, a report that earned some angry words from Braves executive vice president of business operations Mike Plant:
“We have spent millions of dollars on civil engineering, land planning, the master planning, running (a request for qualifications and a request for proposals) process to find our development partner, which we found, and will announce shortly. And obviously we’ve submitted a planning and zoning application for the entire mixed-use site for all phases,” Plant said.
One of the reasons the Braves chose to the leave Turner Field, Plant said, was the franchise’s inability to build a mixed-use development around the stadium.
“We have spent a lot of time and money to file our Development of Regional Impact application, and the bottom line is, what part of all of that has not demonstrated our commitment to do the mixed-use development, which is one of the reasons why we left? That was a material, substantive reason that we wanted to accomplish at Turner Field downtown. Why would we not move forward in accomplishing that here?”
Though there was widespread agreement from county commissioners on the contracts — only one objection from a commissioner was heard, and that was more because of a concern about the process rather than to the merits of the bonding portion of the deal — there were some fireworks preceding the meeting. The county had slotted 12 spots for community comments on the proposals, and proponents of the project were lined up at 1:45 p.m. to snare the speaking slots for the 7 p.m. meeting. That left those opposed to the public ballpark funding shut out from presenting their opinions to the council. Needless to say, they weren’t pleased (although most apparently had already testified in previous meetings) and expressed that displeasure to commissioners:
Several critics of the deal made their way toward the front of the commission meeting room and asked to be given an opportunity to speak. For a minute, the scene turned tense when they would not relent the floor. They were critical of the process of limiting the floor to a dozen public speakers for such an important vote.
One of those critics, Ben Williams, with the Cobb chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, afterward accused the commission of “ignoring the voice of the people.”
The new ballpark is slated to open for the 2017 season.
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