Memorandum of Understanding with the Braves
This is an unpublished Op Ed that I submitted to Marietta Daily Journal just prior to the Cobb County Board of Commissioners voted on the Memorandum of Understanding with the Braves in late November, 2013.
Cobb County, Inc.
The proposal for a public private partnership to relocate the Braves baseball team to Cobb County has a significant social benefit. It provides a meeting place where you are clearly welcomed regardless of your racial or ethnic background, political persuasion, gender or sexual orientation. The ballpark is where a tattooed millennial can be seen sharing batting statistics on his smart phone with a member of the Greatest Generation, where all share in the astonishment of a great play or suffer collectively at a close loss by the Braves. A day at the ballpark is a portrait of the diversity of America, a characteristic which has made this country both unique and frustratingly unfathomable. For Cobb County, the Braves stadium will both offset some of the lingering image of homophobia that excluded Cobb from hosting an event in the 1996 Olympics and highlight the many virtues of our community. I also believe that the Stadium will address in many ways Commissioner Lisa Cupid’s desire that this be a project in Cobb County which “floats all boats” in its implementation.
But the approval of this project by the Cobb Board of Commissioners will decisively place us in the camp that advocates government’s role is not only to promote entrepreneurship but also to engage actively in commerce. That’s an honest debate worthy of representative government. A major worry for many reasonable people, however, is that insufficient time is being allowed to review the proposal. Now that the Memorandum of Understanding between the Braves and County has been released, is one week adequate to arrive at an informed opinion about a public investment that carries a large price tag and long term commitment?
The issue is not the document for it is relatively clear in its assignment of obligations. Rather the discussion focuses on being able to digest all the details contained within MOU’s 20 pages and understanding the implications and risks associated with the various agreements required within it. Is it clear to everyone that $3.1 million of the $6.1million Braves’ annual contribution is discontinued once the bond financing the stadium is paid off? Or that the Braves have the authority to generate revenue for parking on all County, Cumberland CID, and Cobb-Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority (i.e., the Galleria and Cobb Energy Center) within 2 miles of the Stadium? Or that Cobb County is responsible for funding 50% of the Capital Maintenance Fund which will pay for improvements, repairs and maintenance at the Stadium, the stadium site and the Exhibit Hall Authority parking areas? Will we have to grow the government to oversee our duties in the partnership? What new County services will be required after the completion of the Braves multiuse development? Given that the transportation contribution has been priced, what are we buying with that money? As the expression goes, the devil is in the details.
I don’t oppose bringing the Braves to Cobb County. But all the Braves and County documents are given from a business perspective. What I don’t’ hear from our commissioners are more questions like the one posed by Barry Teague who is on the Board of the Cumberland CID. He expressed his concern about the Board being asked to approve the establishment of a new tax district (to meet its tax obligations within the MOU) without knowing the details both on the delineation of the boundaries and how the Board of Commissioners are going to vote on the proposal. That line of inquiry reflects appropriate governance.
What member of the Cobb Chamber would responsibly commit to a 30 year, $672 million proposal without doing due diligence and could they do that within one week? Would any sensible mortgage broker extend a 30 year mortgage to a customer without proper underwriting of the loan? Preaching patience with regard to reviewing the MOU is even more important given that there will be no public referendum on any of the proposed taxes or redirection of public funds. Surely a decision that will commit the citizens of Cobb, their children, and grandchildren to a project requiring the obligation of a quarter of a billion dollars of public funds over the next 30 years deserves more than one week of informed discussion. From a practical standpoint, it will be difficult to reverse the momentum of this project once work begins on all the agreements mandated by the MOU. So let’s take some extra time at the outset to consider this proposal. Going into this project with both sides having their eyes wide open will enhance all efforts that will underpin the MOU. Let’s bring the Braves to Cobb but with a review process and negotiations that acknowledges the awareness of the weight the tax payer is being asked to bear in partnering with a Major League Baseball team.