The Atlanta Braves new taxpayer-funded stadium in Cobb County, Georgia has been open for almost two entire baseball seasons, thanks to $400 million in bonds from the county. But the Braves still aren’t done trying to squeeze more money out of Cobb County. An investigation by Atlanta news station 11Alive uncovered documents that revealed a secret legal fight between Cobb County and the Braves. The Braves are demanding nearly $5 million that they say they’re owed by Cobb County, but the county is denying it owes the Braves anything more.
Surprise! The Braves want more money
Just a year after Cobb County voted to give the Braves $14 million to pay them back for transportation projects around the stadium (on top of the $400 million in bonds the county already gave the Braves to build the stadium), the Braves want more. 11Alive uncovered letters between attorneys for the Braves and Cobb County, going back and forth about $4.6 million that the Braves feel the county owes them. According to the letters published by 11Alive, here’s what the Braves say the county owes them.
- The balance of the transportation improvement fund
- Refund for the building permit fee they say was “improperly charged”
- Refund of half a million dollars for project management costs
- Legal Fees
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the Braves, who had the means to pay for a new stadium but decided to seek public/taxpayer funding, want even more money out of Cobb County. The team got a $400 million gift from the county to build SunTrust Park, but are now arguing over a minuscule fraction of that amount. Everything about the Braves actions here seem unnecessarily combative. They’re not just refusing to pay the overdue bill, it’s almost like they’re punishing the county for asking them to pay it by demanding more money.
Cobb County fights back
This all started in May over an overdue bill. Cobb County contacted the Braves in about an overdue bill for the System Development Fee. It’s essentially a water bill, and it came to just under $1.5 million. Instead of paying it, the Braves responded by saying that they owed the county nothing, and that the county in fact owed THEM money.
The county isn’t acquiescing this time. It’s fighting back, and the matter is now in private mediation. But while it looks like Cobb County is finally drawing a line in the sand, they’re still not being open with taxpayers about what’s going on. Without 11Alive’s investigation, this legal fight may not have come to light. Cobb County chairman Mike Boyce refused to sit down with 11Alive for an interview, and when the station finally caught up to him for a statement, he denied that the feud was even happening. When confronted with the evidence, Boyce then denied he was keeping anything from the public.
Cobb County has given an extraordinary amount of money to the Braves, and none of it has been with the explicit permission of the taxpayers. The Cobb County Commission decided (and approved) all Braves stadium related measures, and while the commissioners were elected by residents, the residents had no opportunity to directly vote on any stadium measures. In fact, a 2013 poll showed that while a majority of Cobb County residents approved of the Braves building a new stadium, a majority also opposed using taxpayer funds to do it.
Taxpayers lose no matter what
11Alive spoke to Cobb County taxpayers about how they felt about the stadium deal after reading the documents, and many were enraged. But at this point, it doesn’t matter. The Braves are nickel-and-diming Cobb County because they can — the stadium has been built and the county can’t go back on the bonds. All angry taxpayers can do is vote. In 2016, Tim Lee, the county commissioner who almost singlehandedly pushed through everything that made the new stadium possible, was voted out of office. Since Cobb County residents never had the chance to vote on anything related to the Braves stadium, that was their only recourse.
Taxpayers turning on a new stadium so quickly isn’t unheard of, especially if they had no say in the process. Cobb County residents had no say, and they made their voices heard on election day. But the money is already committed. There’s no turning back. In 20 years, when the Braves cry to the county commissioners about needing a new stadium, all anyone can hope is that there are people around who remember what committing $400 million in taxpayer money to a rich sports team did to the county.
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