Cobb County still has no idea how much Braves bridge will cost or how to pay for it

There’s now a rendering of the bridge that will take Atlanta Braves fans from their cars to the game! And one whole paragraph of details before you hit the Atlanta Journal Constitution paywall!

Cobb County officials say they intend to build a bridge to link the Braves stadium and mixed-use development to thousands of parking spaces on the other side of I-285, even though one year after the announcement they still don’t know how much the bridge will cost or how the county will pay for its half.

On second thought, that’s probably about all you need to know about this: Cobb County still needs a bridge to get people from the off-site parking, on the other side of a major highway, to the new stadium. And it still has no idea how to pay for it, thanks to approving everything else about stadium construction before actually finishing the required transportation agreement.

This is, to put it mildly, likely to be an issue. Everybody going to Braves games is going to drive, both because there will be no meaningful public transit to the new stadium, and because everybody in Atlanta drives everywhere anyway. The Braves owners, for the moment at least, have no plans to build parking on the actual stadium parcel, because they want to save that for building celebrity chef–driven restaurants. So we’re looking at the prospect of Cobb County having to shell out as much as $80 million extra for a new bridge so that fans can trudge long distances from the parking lots to their seats, or maybe sit in traffic on shuttle buses waiting to be driven the last stretch of the trip. [UPDATE: The Marietta Daily Journal reports that the bridge will now be pedestrian-only, and so significantly cheaper. But also presumably much slower to cross, unless the Braves will be holding an annual Rollerblade Giveaway Night.]

Long commute times are something that football fans, say, will often put up with, since going to an NFL game kills your entire Sunday anyway. But the Braves should be seriously worried that long delays in getting to and from their games will kill attendance on weeknights in particular, when people have a limited time to get from work to the game. And having fans spend all their pregame time fighting their way to the stadium isn’t going to help get them into those celebrity chef–driven restaurants for dinner beforehand.

It’s why I told the AJC that “this could easily end up one of those rare lose-lose-lose situations,” where the county ends up losing money (not only because of unknown transportation infrastructure costs, but because the county is counting on tax receipts from the stadium-side development to help recoup their $300 million in subsidies), the Braves end up losing money (because attendance tanks when people realize how hard it is to get to games and back), and fans end up with a worse gameday experience. Except for nicer cupholders, I guess. And who can put a price on those?

Cobb commissioner says he shouldn’t face hearing on secret Braves talks because ethics code is just a suggestion

Cobb County Commission chair Tim Lee, who has already established his credentials in the field of creative excusery by hiring a lawyer to negotiate an Atlanta Braves stadium deal without telling his fellow commission members, claiming he did no such thing, then being exposed as having send emails from a separate email account to hire the stadium negotiator to avoid getting caught, now says he shouldn’t have to face ethics charges for these shenanigans because — I swear I am not making this up — the county ethics code doesn’t actually require elected officials to avoid improper behavior:

The portion of the ethics code in question states government officials “by their conduct should avoid the appearance of impropriety.”

Cole argues the use of the word “should,” as opposed to “shall” or “must,” means the portion of the code is not a mandatory standard of conduct, but rather an “advisory statement.”

Cobb Board of Education chair Kathleen Angelucci responded to this in the only way possible: “It depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.” Craig Calcaterra, the former Ohio lawyer who now writes for NBC Sports, chimed in that “if I had made such an argument in front of [the Ohio Ethics Commission] they would’ve laughed my butt out of the building.”
The poor Cobb Board of Ethics now needs to decide whether to move ahead with planned hearings to investigate Lee’s actions, or agree not to even talk about them, because, you know, the ethics code doesn’t say that officials have to avoid the appearance of impropriety if they really, really don’t want to. One can only hope that someone will now file an ethics board complaint against Lee for this latest action, though something tells me the crafters of the ethics code didn’t have enough foresight to make abuse of the English language a punishable offense.

Georgia Supreme Court to hear appeals of Falcons, Braves bond sales

The Georgia Supreme Court has set oral argument dates for the lawsuits against the stadium deals for the Atlanta Falcons (Monday) and Braves (next February). And … that’s about all I can tell you, because the Atlanta Journal Constitution story is behind a paywall, but if you’re an AJC subscriber, you can no doubt read more.

Okay, I can give you a little background: The two suits are actually appeals of the bond issuance for the stadiums, which means the bonds can’t be sold until they’ve been cleared.

None of this appears to have stopped construction from moving ahead — check out the Falcons’ construction photos, with all those, um, whatever they are already having been built — presumably because the teams have enough cash on hand to start things off with the bond money. But if either appeal is successful, then we’re entering uncharted waters, to say the least.

Cobb chair really did hire secret lawyer on Braves deal, says email from Cobb chair

Hey, remember when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Cobb County Commission Chair Tim Lee had secretly hired a lawyer to negotiate with the Atlanta Braves to move to his county, without even telling his fellow commissioners? Last week, Lee denied having hired attorney Dan McRae, a defense that would have worked out much better if not for the AJC then uncovering an email from Lee to McRae appointing him the county’s project and bond counsel on the stadium project. From a Cobb Chamber of Commerce email account, so it would be harder to trace. Oops.

“I am passing on to you the following provided by Chairman Tim Lee on behalf of Cobb County and its entities, ” the email says. “The county confirms the attorney-client relationship between it and Seyfarth Shaw as its project counsel/bond counsel for Project Intrepid.”…

The email from Mathis to McRae does not specify a limited role or how long the arrangement would continue. And in making the deal, Lee unilaterally waived a stated conflict of interest — Seyfarth was representing the Braves’ parent company on an unrelated legal issue in California.

(Project Intrepid, seriously? Because he could hear the screams of hundreds of minds dying, perhaps?)

Lee has now responded by saying he’s going to refuse all interview requests from the AJC, because a newspaper looking at the emails of an elected official just isn’t fair. Especially when he went out of his way, you know, to hide them.

Too soon to say whether this opens up the Braves stadium plan to any additional legal challenges, but it sure isn’t good news for Lee, who — you will be shocked to learn — is currently the subject of an ethics investigation.

Georgia lawyer says arson at her house was retaliation for her opposing Braves stadium

Seriously?

Susan McCoy said an arsonist struck her East Cobb property early Thursday morning. The flames didn’t reach her 3,900-square-foot home but did destroy part of her fence, evergreens and other parts of her yard.

McCoy, a newly minted lawyer, said she had filed a complaint with the SEC asking it to examine the county’s plan to issue $397 million in bonds for construction of the new stadium; and she has been critical of the rushed deal’s lack of transparency and cost to taxpayers.

“Its retribution for speaking out,” she said. “I obviously struck a nerve.”

Disclosure: I’ve spoken with McCoy a couple of times about the Braves stadium deal (she’s filed an SEC complaint about the way it was negotiated, among other things) and she’s never struck me as anyone whose house I would want to burn down. Glad everyone is okay at least, except the poor trees, which really didn’t do anything to deserve this.

NY Times version of Braves stadium story: County considered public vote, it didn’t happen, the end

How to soft-pedal affronts to democracy, New York Times edition:

Tim Lee, the Cobb County chairman who steered negotiations with the [Atlanta] Braves, said Tuesday a vote had been considered for the 700,000 residents of a county historically cautious about government spending. Ultimately, there was no referendum, just an agreement that the county chip in about 45 percent of the actual construction cost, with the Braves picking up the rest.

Not mentioned in this story of a county considering a referendum but “ultimately” having one quashed by the passive voice: The Cobb commissioner who said that a referendum on a $300 million stadium subsidy would be too expensive because it would “cost taxpayers 300, 400 thousand dollars.” Not to mention the part where any public agitation for a referendum was avoided by having county commissioners hide in hallways so that the deal could be announced just two weeks before the commission’s vote. The Times really should have gone with one of the alternate slogans.

Braves release more renderings of new Cobb stadium that still don’t show promised cantilevering

Hey, it’s a new rendering of the Atlanta Braves‘ new stadium, everybody!

As one Twitter commenter already noted, there is still no sign of the promised cantilevering that was supposed to “push seats closer to the field.” The middle deck might overhang the lower deck by a smidge, and the upper over the middle by a couple of rows, but that’s hardly anything to write home about when compared to the cantilevering of yore.

The rest of the Twitter thread is fun to read as well, including these highlights so far:

The consensus opinion, though, appears to be “meh,” which is a fair take. The Braves are in a tough situation, really, replacing a run-of-the-mill modern stadium with another stadium that doesn’t have any interesting features around it to make it less run-of-the-mill. (Maybe Cobb County could build a suspension bridge across one of its highways?) Actual cantilevering would certainly make a new park stand out, and get fans excited about closer views, but OH NO THE WELL HEELED MIGHT BE CAST INTO SHADOW INSTEAD OF BATHING IN THE GLORY OF THE SUN’S RAYS AS IS THEIR BIRTHRIGHT, so forget that.

Braves promise cantilevered decks to get seats close to field, rendering shows nothing of the sort

The Atlanta Braves have announced they’ll be holding a groundbreaking for their new stadium in Cobb County on September 16, which is pretty meaningless, since they’ve already started work on the site, but hey, everybody loves a press conference with shovels, right? But what I found more interesting was this tidbit from the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s coverage of the team press release:

The stadium will seat 41,500, with the upper and middle of three decks cantilevered to push seats closer to the field, the Braves have said.

Cantilevering, for those who haven’t thought much about stadium architecture, is when you counterbalance the front of a deck of seats with a counterweight at the back of the section — it’s known to normal human beings as an overhang. I am somewhat of an evangelist for cantilevering, since it allows seats in the upper decks to be placed far closer to the field, with the only cost being that fans in the back of the expensive seats down below are in shadow — which apparently is considered completely unacceptable, since cantilevering has been more or less eliminated in all modern stadiums. The Braves actually told the AJC’s Tim Tucker about their cantilever promise back in June, but this is the first time I noticed it.

Anyway, here’s a rendering of the Braves’ new stadium:

There’s, um, no overhang. Also, there are five decks, not three.

All this could just be the result of a crappy initial rendering, or it could be that the Braves are bullshitting in their press statements — who can tell? I mean, the AJC could tell, but they apparently didn’t ask. Since June. I’ve given the paper lots of props for some excellent reporting on the Braves stadium mess, but come on, guys, at least do a little digging when the press release is visibly contradicted by the accompanying picture.

AJC reveals: Cobb chair hired secret stadium lawyer, Braves demanded cut of bus fares, and more!

The indefatigable Dan Klepal of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has unearthed some fresh public documents on the Braves stadium deal with Cobb County, and man, oh man, are they juicy. Klepal’s two articles so far are now behind the AJC paywall, but here are some highlights:

The Braves’ initial proposal, according to documents obtained by the AJC via open records requests, included:

  • The county providing $442 million in cash to the stadium deal, pretty much exactly as the AJC initially reported, though the final number turned out to be somewhat less than that.
  • The Braves demanding tax dollars to “move roads and build bridges,” something that is still being worked out, even as construction on the stadium begins.
  • Team execs wanting the county to use its eminent domain powers to obtain stadium land, something that county negotiator Dan McRae underlined in the draft MOU, writing “no” next to it.
  • The team initially proposing getting “all revenues from … train, circulator, bus or transit stops and vehicles” at the stadium.
  • A county negotiator noting in October, shortly before the deal was finalized, that they expected they’d “get about $50 million from governor,” which so far hasn’t happened.

All this is an indication that all that negotiating in secret — a secret that carried on after the negotiations were concluded, since it took Cobb officials eight months to respond to the AJC’s open records request — at least accomplished something, in that county leaders did whittle down some of the Braves’ most lavish demands. Which is a silver lining, considering that Klepal also reported this weekend that Cobb Commission chair Tim Lee last year hired McRae as an outside stadium negotiator off the books, not even telling his fellow commission members what he was up to. This led to one of the greatest quotes in recent memory, from Emory University ethics professor Edward Queen:

“It’s either an issue of incompetence or unethical behavior,” Queen said. “Neither one reflects particularly well on the individual.”

Nobody from either the Braves or Cobb County is commenting much on these revelations, though the team did release a statement denying that it really meant to demand collecting bus fares from people riding public transit to games. Which is as expected, since the deal is more or less done, so traditional PR strategy is just to wait for the whole thing to blow over and everyone to ooh and aah over the new shiny thing. If only they could have held out on that open records request for a couple more years…

Cobb commissioners got free Braves gear after stadium vote, say “Don’t worry, this happens all the time”

If you’ve been following the Cobb County Atlanta Braves stadium saga, this should not surprise you at all, but feel free to shake your head sadly anyway:

Following the first of a series of controversial votes to approve public funding of a new Atlanta Braves stadium, Cobb County commissioners got goody bags from the Braves. The bags contained Braves apparel, according to disclosure forms filed with the state ethics commission– valued by Commissioner Lisa Cupid at $300. Commissioner Bob Ott valued his at $245.

“It had like a baseball cap, a shirt, a jacket and then like a Braves jersey with my name on the back,” said Ott. “It’s not uncommon. We receive a lot of things and in general, what I do is, I give ‘em away.”

The best part of the article, on the WXIA-TV website, is how Ott says he gave away everything except the personalized jersey, because “I don’t want anyone to have the perception that I’m taking gifts.”

This may well be common practice — in fact we know it is, as witness the free Oakland A’s hats the Oakland Coliseum Authority got yesterday for approving that team’s lease extension — but if so that’s only all the more disturbing: Needless to say, critics of the Braves stadium didn’t have personalized Governmental Transparency jerseys to hand out if the commissioners had voted their way. And while elected officials almost certainly don’t tailor their votes just in order to get swag, the swag has a corrupting effect nonetheless: Teams that can offer personalized jerseys, or luxury boxes for governmental use, or selfies with famous people are more likely to be taken seriously as important people who matter, which is exactly why there are disclosure rules about such things. Though when the recipients don’t even have the decency to be embarrassed about it, you have to wonder if disclosure is penalty enough.