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Copyright 2013 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
November 14, 2013 Thursday
Main Edition
830 words
Stadium bonds likely to cost Cobb millions
Dan Klepal, Greg Bluestein; Staff

Public funding likely will not be from general fund budget. Revenue stream could include taxes, rent.

While Cobb County elected officials still won't say how much public cash will go into a new stadium for the Atlanta Braves, the bill for luring the team to a new suburban home is likely to be tens of millions of dollars a year.

Even with relatively low interest rates of about 4.5 percent, debt service payments on $450 million in bonds over 30 years would be about $27 million annually, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis.

If the county commits less money to the project or gets a better interest rate, the annual payment would be reduced. A $350 million investment under the same terms, for example, would cost taxpayers about $21 million a year.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has said Cobb will fund the project at $450 million, though the Braves and Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee dispute that number without providing any additional information.

Either way, it is unlikely that the public money used to pay off construction bonds will come from the county's general fund budget, which relies mostly on property taxes.

Selling bonds to raise construction funds is a common method of financing public projects. Investors are repaid with interest over a set period, usually 20 or 30 years for major projects.

The Cobb-Marietta Coliseum Authority will own the facility and issue the debt, meaning it will also have to raise the funds to make the payments. One authority board member told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Tuesday that it will likely issue revenue bonds, that will rely on specific sources to raise the money.

Those sources could include hotel-motel taxes, Cobb ticket surcharges, money from Cumberland Community Improvement District fees or sources from the facility itself, such as rent payment from the Braves.

"It seems to me there will have to be a good deal of creativity in order to generate the amounts they'll need," said Joey Smith, an economist with the University of West Georgia.

Terry Chastain, an attorney with Balch & Bingham who represented the Perimeter Community Improvement District, said he also expects funding to come from a variety of sources, including a hefty chunk from the Cumberland CID, which levies a tax on businesses within its borders.

"I think you can stitch it together in different ways," he said, noting the CID could fuel infrastructure improvements while hotel-motel taxes could also fund a portion of the deal. "They can cobble the money together ... but I haven't seen concrete financial plans, so it's tough to know."

Many in the business community expect the Cumberland CID will be a key player. Cumberland sent out an email this week touting the Braves' potential relocation. Braves officials are expected to appear at the Council for Quality Growth breakfast meeting next week, an event headlined "Why Move Your Business to a CID."

The Braves announcement Monday surprised even Gov. Nathan Deal, who said he was only told of the move shortly before the team announced it publicly, and that he hasn't seen any financing details.

That's important because state transportation planners will likely be asked to fund improvements around the area.

But as far as financing of the stadium itself, "I have no indication that I'll be putting any infrastructure funds in my budget, let's put it that way," the governor said Wednesday, adding: "I do not see this as something that the taxpayers of this state will be asked or called upon to pay for."

Deal met with Reed and team officials briefly Wednesday. Reed didn't offer a last-ditch plan to convince the team to stay within the city, Deal said.

The governor has little incentive for getting tangled in an intra-Atlanta fight, despite his friendship with Reed. He played a role in keeping the Falcons in the city limits, partly because they play in the state-owned Georgia Dome and the team's relocation could affect the sprawling Georgia World Congress Center's campus.

Turner Field, by contrast, is owned by county and city agencies, and intervening could alienate Deal from constituencies in Cobb and Atlanta ahead of his re-election campaign. He said he set up the meeting as a "very interested observer" who needed to be in the loop on the team's next steps.

"I'm glad they are going to stay in Georgia and we want to make sure that happens," said Deal, who added: "I don't want to get in a fight between one county and another."

It's likely that eventually the state Department of Transportation would be asked to chip in to connect the stadium to the network of roads and highways crisscrossing the construction site. And those new roads will probably require some state funds.

"With the potential location of it, there has to be some connectivity to that site," said Deal. "But that is way down the road. I have seen no plans, no requests have been made to the state. And it will be that way for a long time."

Staff writer Katie Leslie contributed to this article.

In an online exclusive, the AJC's Tim Tucker talks with Braves officials about the team's move to Cobb County.

November 14, 2013

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