Public’s Braves stadium tab nears $350m on road and transit costs

The invaluable Dan Klepal of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has done a new tally of all the additional infrastructure costs for the new Atlanta Braves stadium, and it includes:

  • $41 million in road projects, to be paid off using a combination of local, state and federal money
  • $3.4 million for new buses, plus $1.2 million a year (figure $15 million in present value) for a new tram running around the stadium area
  • At least $9 million for a new pedestrian bridge over I-285 to get people from the parking lot to the stadium, assuming it doesn’t cost much more than that, and also assuming it doesn’t get scrapped entirely.
  • A bunch of other projects that were already on the drawing board but may now get funded because of the stadium, including a $4.3 million firehouse in Cumberland and a possible $500 million bus rapid transit project.

Not all of that would be solely to benefit the Braves, of course, but we’re certainly looking at an additional $60-70 million in public costs just for stadium-related improvements, on top of $276 million in direct subsidies. (Klepal has the direct subsidy cost at closer to $400 million, but he then subtracts out the rent the Braves will be paying to Cobb County, whereas I’ve deducted it from the initial figure — same math, different way of writing the equation.) I know everyone likes to have one solid cost figure to throw out there, so let’s go with “almost $350 million” — but if you want to count everything that the county will be spending money on at least in part because of the Braves, the figure could end up way higher. Sure hope they’ll at least get to watch Freddie Freeman for that price.

Cobb County to spend $1.2m a year on shuttle buses to Braves stadium, says this is mere coincidence

If you’re still wondering how the Atlanta Braves are going to get fans to their new stadium way out on the outskirts of town — no, not how to get fans from their cars to the ballpark across a forbidding highway, but how to get fans there who don’t use cars at all — a partial answer may come today, when the Cobb County Commission is set to vote on buying buses for a $1.2-million-a-year shuttle bus system that is totally not just for the Braves, how could you even think that?

One solution is what county officials call a circulator bus system. Rooted in the Cumberland Mall Area Transfer Station, buses would run routes connecting Cumberland area hotspots — and parking spots — and the new ballpark.

Critics say it’s plainly a taxpayer subsidy for the Braves. “And that’s not public transit. That’s a Braves shuttle. And we don’t feel the taxpayers should be paying for that,” said Kenneth Howell, a Cobb Community Transit bus driver and member of the Georgia Community Coalition. Howell says taxpayers are already likely to get hooked for the delayed pedestrian bridge across Interstate 285, connecting the ballpark and Cumberland.

But county officials say the bus circulator won’t just serve the Braves. It will also serve other major destinations in Cumberland, a dynamic and growing commercial area – at a reported operating cost of $1.2 million per year, paid by hotel taxes.

So should we count this new cost — present value of about $15 million, plus whatever it costs to buy the buses — as part of the county’s Braves subsidy? Probably, especially since the history of transit improvements built for stadiums being used by anybody else is not a long and gloried one. But at this point another $15 million or so is a relative drop in the bucket on top of the $300 million or so the county is already kicking in, so take your pick.

Pinellas County hedges on Braves spring training plan, blames St. Pete for Rays “stalemate”

Pinellas County commissioners took no action on the controversial Atlanta Braves spring training proposal that would eat up between $6.5 million and $10.5 million in annual subsidies, plus a prime development site, and they know who they want to blame for this: The St. Petersburg city council for not letting them know if they should save the land and money for a potential Tampa Bay Rays stadium.

“We are being held hostage not being able to make a decision, and we have a responsibility to our taxpayers to do that,” Commissioner Janet Long said. “We can’t just be held hostage forever because some partner can’t make a decision, and there’s a difference between being a partner and practicing extortion.”

Chairman John Morroni said the St. Petersburg council elections in November could sway the longtime stalemate on negotiations with the Rays, which could immediately impact the county’s decision on Toytown.

That word “stalemate” showed up in just about every news story on the Pinellas talks today, and it’s dead wrong: The St. Petersburg council isn’t stuck making a decision, people. Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has a lease that runs through 2027, and he asked to buy his way out of it, and the St. Pete council said, “No, thanks.” A stalemate implies an impasse toward a needed decision, but a decision’s been made here — Sternberg isn’t happy with it, but it’s done unless he chooses to make another offer.

Anyway, the Tampa Bay sports media are all awful (okay, not you, Noah). But then, that’s nothing new.

Braves propose Tampa Bay spring training complex, MLB says “Hey, leave some subsidies for the Rays”

My apologies for not keeping you all updated before now on the Atlanta Braves spring training controversy in Tampa Bay, which has now managed to draw the Rays stadium mess into its orbit:

Tempest in a teacup, most likely, but a pretty darn entertaining one, if only for MLB having to come up with a way to say, “Thanks for throwing money at our spring training facilities, but please throw money at our big-league teams first.”

Cursed Braves pedestrian bridge delayed at least one year, maybe forever

If you’re at least a semi-regular reader of this site, you’re probably aware that the Atlanta Braves‘ pedestrian bridge to get fans to its new stadium isn’t going too well: Nobody’s sure yet how much it will cost or who’ll pay for it, and it won’t be ready by the time the stadium opens in April 2017. In fact, you might be tempted to conclude that everything that could go wrong already has — but you would be incorrect, because this just happened:

A high-placed source tells Around Town it’s unlikely the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority will agree to build the controversial “Braves Bridge” over Interstate 285 that would link the county’s Galleria Convention Centre — and its hundreds of parking spaces — and the SunTrust Field complex…

BUT AT THE END of the day, the key player on the bridge’s fate may well be the other major player on the Galleria “campus” — Childress Klein Properties. The real estate giant must have ironclad assurances that the many blue-chip tenants of its massive office towers there won’t see their parking disrupted. That goes for the upscale Renaissance Waverly Hotel, too, which adjoins the Galleria.

And Childress Klein might hold not one, but two trump cards when it comes to the bridge. That is, not only does CK own the air rights over the Galleria property and its decks, but CK — not the county or state — also owns the roads that snake around and through the campus. It’s hard to see how any bridge or overpass could be built there without CK’s OK.

Seriously? You go and build a stadium in the middle of a woodland next to a suburban highway intersection, with the plan being that fans will park across the highway and walk over a bridge to get to games, and you don’t even get permission to build the bridge before you build the stadium?

Okay, so this is all unnamed sources, and even if things are as bad as they sound, it’s always possible the Braves and/or Cobb County could paper things over with money to make up for lost Galleria parking. (As somebody famous may have famously noted, everyone has their price.) Still, it’s unlikely the Marietta Daily Journal is just making up the land rights issues — plus, Cobb County commission chair Tim Lee just declared today that the bridge would be delayed at least a year, declaring, “,” which is the kind of thing one usually says when one is rethinking the idea of the bridge.

All this has come to pass, of course, because in order to get the Braves stadium deal signed off on fast, in addition to hiring secret lawyers, Lee and the rest of the county commission signed off on building the stadium without finalizing a transportation plan. That was almost two years ago, and the transportation plan may still not be ready for months yet, no doubt at least in part because no one knows yet whether there’ll be a way to get from your car to the game.

On the bright side, the Braves are likely to be terrible for the foreseeable future, so it’s not like anybody’s going to be clamoring to actually get to the games. Does the Galleria parking lot have WiFi?

Braves road and bridge projects push public cost past $300m, still no one sure where money will come from

I initially missed this one when it happened last week: The Georgia state transportation department approved $18.9 million in funding for road projects to support Cobb County’s new Atlanta Braves stadium, including money for new message boards to help direct traffic and highway and pedestrian improvements near the stadium. I think we’re still at $276 million in direct public subsidies for the stadium (which you can watch being built via webcam right here, if you want to see what taxpayers are getting for their money, or just like cranes), so adding the cost of upgrading highways so tens of thousands of people can actually get to the middle of nowhere at the same time to watch baseball would bring the total cost to $294.9 million.

And we’re not done yet, because the state refused to pay for that delayed pedestrian and shuttle-bus bridge that is set to leave Braves fans walking along the side of a highway to get to games for at least the stadium’s first season. The bridge itself is projected to cost $9 million (though nobody apparently really thinks it can be built for that amount), plus another $3.5 million is needed to upgrade a parking deck that it would connect to. Right now nobody knows where the money will come from, though the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s James Salzer has some ideas:

Lawmakers routinely approve sales tax breaks for construction projects, from amphitheaters in the northern suburbs to zoo improvements in Atlanta.

Those tax breaks – contained in carefully worded bills with a limited lifespan – are typically sponsored by local lawmakers who want to help out a project in their home county.

Lawmakers have at least twice given sales tax breaks to Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus’ downtown aquarium: once for the original construction and another time for an expansion.

Salzer also notes that the state legislature agreed to kick in $40 million for a Falcons parking garage after it turned out nobody had budgeted for that, so there’s always the chance of this happening here as well. There’s a reason why the average public stadium cost is “more than you were told at the start.”

New radio series explores WTF is up with all those new Atlanta stadiums

WABE radio in Atlanta kicked off a week-long series yesterday on the metro area’s multiple new stadium and arena deals for the Falcons, Braves, and possibly Hawks, and I had the honor of being one of the first guests, pointing out that while there are certainly cities that got worse deals (hello, Indianapolis!), that’s not really something to brag about. You can listen to the whole interview here.

More interesting to me (since I know what I was going to say already) is Thursday’s upcoming appearance by Cobb County Commission chair Tim Lee, who will try to explain why it made sense to throw $300 million at the Braves to get them to move to a new stadium in the suburbs, plus maybe what’s up with that pedestrian bridge that won’t be ready in time to get fans from their cars to games, plus maybe the soaring ticket prices planned for the new place, plus even maybe why he secretly hired a lawyer with county funds to negotiate the Braves deal without even telling his fellow commission members, then lied about having done so. Come to think of it, I would have rather skipped my appearance yesterday and instead gotten to interview Lee. Now that would be some must-see radio.

Braves bridge may go way over budget, leave fans stranded on wrong side of highway for five months

Hey, how’s everybody’s favorite pedestrian-and-bus bridge that no one knows how much it will cost but that without which Atlanta Braves fans won’t be able to get to games? The good news is that the Cobb County Commission approved a preliminary design last night, one that involves side-by-side lanes for pedestrians and shuttle buses. The bad news is, as Dan Klepal of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, everything else:

The 1,100-foot bridge, which is meant to help fans walking or riding a circulator bus to the games from remote parking areas, likely won’t be completed until September 2017 — five months later than county officials originally planned, according to a document obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through Georgia’s Open Records Act.

Okay, that’s not good, considering that the stadium is supposed to open in April 2017 — five months is a long time to be late for the game.

And any news on how much this bridge is going to cost, and who’ll pay for it and how?

The county has not updated its $9 million cost estimate, despite its contractor working on the project since April. The AJC has previously reported that the county’s estimate is for construction costs only and does not include things such as moving utilities, buying land for right-of-way, or the $804,000 being paid to the contractor.

So that would be a lot more than $9 million, in all likelihood—

Outside bridge experts have previously expressed skepticism to the newspaper that the county can even construct the bridge for $9 million.

Okay, a whole lot more than $9 mil—

And now there’s a new expense: the top level of the parking garage, to which the bridge will connect, will have to be reinforced to support the circulator bus, according to documents reviewed by the newspaper.

The deck needs to be strengthened to support the buses that will drive across it to access the bridge, the document says. It does not specify what materials will be used or how much it will cost, but it is clearly an unexpected development.

Okay, clearly nobody has any idea how much this bridge will cost, or when it will be open, but they’ve gotta build it or half the fans attending every game will end up standing on the wrong side of a highway, because they went ahead and approved the stadium before finalizing the transportation plan. I’m going out on a limb here and saying maybe that wasn’t the greatest idea, guys?

Stadiums can be anchors for related development, say newspapers in search of cheap headlines

You know what I missed while I was away? Having the time to read long, misinformed articles about new stadium projects and how they’re just totally different from those old bad stadium projects of a couple of decades ago. Got anything like that for me, Google News?

With the era of standalone, isolated stadiums largely over, sports team owners increasingly are taking on the role of developer and using their stadiums as anchors for entertainment districts or retail and residential developments.

Oh, yeah, that’s the stuff.

The article in question is from the Tampa Tribune’s Christopher O’Donnell, and argues that this newfangled stadium-plus-other-development model being used by teams like the Atlanta Braves and Detroit Red Wings (or “Redwings,” as he calls them) could be used by the Tampa Bay Rays for a new stadium as well. It ignores the fact that these stadium-plus projects aren’t especially new, going back well over a decade (the St. Louis Cardinals‘ “ballpark village” was one of the earlier ones, but I’m sure I’m forgetting others), and mostly ignores, aside from a comment by stadium architecture consultant Philip Bess (who O’Donnell calls “Phillip” — fired all the copy editors, did you, Tampa Tribune?), the problem that if development around a stadium were profitable enough to pay off a stadium, teams would be able to pursue this strategy without public subsidies. Not to mention that if stadium-related development is profitable it could be pursued without the money suck of a new stadium attached, that it could just end up displacing development that otherwise would have taken place somewhere else in town, that development around stadiums has typically appeared years late when it shows up at all, etc., etc.

Anyway, good to see that these articles still pop up every once in a while for me to throw rocks at, and — whoa there!

The new Minnesota Vikings football stadium, to be completed a year from now, is helping draw nearby office towers, upscale housing and other developments, according to its supporters.

Guys! One article at a time, please! I’m still getting back up to speed here.

Georgia court rules that baseball stadiums are a public purpose because they just are, duh

The court ruling is in for Cobb County’s use of public bonds for the Atlanta Braves‘ new stadium, and did the judge buy the team’s argument that stadiums are a public purpose because they just are? Did he ever!

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 9.15.03 AMScreen Shot 2015-06-30 at 9.15.31 AMIn other words, sports are a public good, and anything that says it will create economic benefits is a public good, so the government has every right to fund it, so there. That’s pretty sweeping, albeit not unexpected. Anyway, if you were hoping that the Braves funding plan would somehow get tossed out by a court, throwing all of sports finance into disarray, the Georgia supreme court isn’t going to give that to you.