Moderated by Tom Sabulis
The Atlanta Braves are moving to Cobb County, but not without some controversy. Today, we offer comments made May 19 by Braves President John Schuerholz at an AJC Editorial Board meeting, where the team’s executive leadership outlined their vision of the future. In our second column, a Common Cause board member gets to say what he planned to say to the Cobb County Commission earlier this week but could not because stadium supporters had taken all the public comment slots.
A home for the Braves, their fans
By John Schuerholz
(As told to the AJC editorial board)
I’ve been with the the Atlanta Braves quite a few years. I’ve been in baseball 48 years. This project is one of the most exciting ones that I’ve personally had an opportunity to be part of in my years in baseball.
When I was with the Kansas City Royals in 1973, we opened Royals Stadium, and that same year, in July, we hosted the All-Star game. We thought that was a tight timeline. We managed to get that done, and we had the All-Star game without a hitch.
Here, we are faced with something even more exciting. Not only are we building a beautiful new state-of-the-art baseball park, but a mixed-use development as well. And they will come out of the ground simultaneously. That is our plan. That is our goal. We believe that in so doing, we have responded to the best interests of our fans — people from Atlanta, suburban Atlanta (and) the five, six, seven-state region we call Braves Country, who make their way through great effort to come to Braves games.
We believe that in building this complex, it will be to their benefit as well as anything. It will be to ours as well, but principally, it will be to our fans’ benefit. We believe they will find it easier, more comfortable and less stressful to get to our ballpark — to get there earlier and entertain themselves, their families, their guests (and) their neighbors, and to have a pro-active, interested attitude about coming to a Braves baseball game.
Not only that, we are building a destination. This complex will be a destination not only for our fans in Atlanta, but in the five, six, seven-state Southeastern region. We are a regional franchise. That’s a fact. As we move but 12 miles north from our current location to our beautiful new location in Cobb County, we will continue to wear “Atlanta” across our chests, wear the “A” on our hat. We will represent the great city of Atlanta.
We made this decision after many, many years of negotiating with the city. Both sides negotiated very hard, trying to find an opportunity where we could do more things around Turner Field. We got to the point where we knew that wasn’t possible.
We also got to the point on the calendar where we knew we had to move quickly if we were going to plan, design and build a stadium — much less a stadium and a mixed-use development coming out of the ground at the same time. It came to the point where … we had no choice but to make a decision, to advise the mayor that we were going to relocate. We tried as best we could. We gave it our very best effort. In the interim, we knew that we had to find a place. We found a place, fortunately, and it’s a beautiful place.
The responses that I have heard have all been the same: We are delighted about your Cobb County project. We can’t wait for you to open. We are excited about going there. We are excited about buying season tickets. So there is a real positive response.
We’re excited about this. This is really a joyful, stimulating time for us in this organization, and we believe that it will be for the community. We certainly believe that it will be for our fans. We can’t wait for it all to happen, and for Opening Day 2017 to come upon us and to see that what we believed, what we planned, what we hoped for, actually has happened.
John Schuerholz is president of the Atlanta Braves.
What he’d have said, given the chance
First, this is what I understand on the topic of the bond resolution that came before the Cobb County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday:
• The bond resolution is for the bond issuance this summer; there is no question that passing the resolution is a necessary step to move forward on the issuance.
• Asking for an authorization level in excess of what you will believe will be needed helps avoid an issuance problem. If an issuer asks authorization for only the exact amount based on its financial analysis, the issuance could blow up if it turned out to be $1 more than the authorization. A prudent issuer wants to avoid that.
• The really key numbers, I believe, are the net proceeds that go to the stadium project and the debt servicing obligation — and whether these remain within the expectation that (Cobb has) publicly shared. We will know that when Cobb County actually goes to bond market.
Common Cause Georgia’s issue is how the bond resolution details were made public — specifically, that they became available after the close of business Friday before a holiday weekend, the first business day after which the resolution was to be voted on.
Before coming to the Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday, I Googled the question: “Why are press releases issued on Friday afternoon?” Posting information on a website is similar to a press release, so that’s what I went with.
Here’s the first entry that popped up. It’s from Salon.com: “Investors and journalists have long complained that companies release bad news — a failed product trial, a recall, a Securities & Exchange Commission investigation — on Fridays, particularly after the market closes. The Friday release is a transparent attempt to evade fallout by burying bad news ahead of the weekend.”
I can only imagine what the author would have said about a Friday before a long holiday weekend.
This is Common Cause Georgia’s concern. The public funding portion of the stadium is a subject Cobb citizens are interested in. There are reasonable questions that some may have about what the total dollar commitment is and why numbers have at least the appearance of changing. And it’s also reasonable to believe that the details in the resolution were revealed under the cover of darkness, so to speak.
The better way to do it? Explain things up front, before they hit the paper. The figure of $397 million must have been no surprise to Cobb County Chairman Tim Lee, and I imagine that he may have known the approximate figure well before Friday. Not everyone may understand bond details, and most haven’t worked in the capital markets and know what the conventions are. But the Board of Commissioners would have done its best.
The Tuesday county commission meeting did not allow for public conversation. All the speaking slots were taken by stadium boosters who lined up several hours ahead of time. It’s the same tactic used in earlier meetings to ensure that their voice dominated. That’s nice for them, but many people don’t have the luxury of taking half a day off of work. And even if citizens had a chance to speak, the meeting format did not permit questions and answers.
Common Cause Georgia preferred that the vote be delayed two weeks to let citizens absorb the details and ask questions. To her credit, Commissioner Lisa Cupid clearly preferred that citizens have more time to examine the resolution.
Cobb County’s communications and finance staff have done a fine job answering my questions whenever I ask. They have been friendly, open and helpful, and I have nothing but praise for their professionalism. But Chairman Lee and county commissioners need to get complete and accurate information to the public in enough time to be reviewed and questioned.
Again, Common Cause Georgia doesn’t oppose the stadium or the county’s involvement. Our focus is on transparency and full details. In the future, we’d like to see the Board of Commissioners get in front of the news.
Terry Taylor, a Smyrna resident, is a board member of Common Cause Georgia.