Atlanta mayor says price to keep Braves in city limits was too steep
CNN — (CNN) -- The Atlanta Braves have decided to leave the limits of their namesake city because they got "a terrific deal," Mayor Kasim Reed said -- one that was sweeter than he felt comfortable supporting for fear of hurting his municipal government long-term.
"We wanted the Braves to stay in Atlanta, but (there was a) business problem that we had to solve," Reed said Tuesday. "That choice was encumbering between $150 million and $250 million in debt and not having money to do anything else."
The mayor chose not to go that route, and partly as a result, the Major League Baseball franchise is heading about 12 miles north to Cobb County.
This new multimillion-dollar stadium, which will be part of a larger retail and entertainment complex, is scheduled to open in 2017 to the northwest, where two major interstates -- Interstates 75 and 285 -- meet, the Braves announced Monday.
A day later, Reed admitted that he was taken aback by the news. While the team and city had been engaged in negotiations over the past 18 months -- and he'd "still felt that we could get a deal done" -- the mayor said his first indication that something had changed came after being contacted by a Braves official on November 6, a day after his re-election.
Reed said he learned about the baseball club's new thinking, including a reported offer of $450 million of public financing from Cobb County, the next day.
The city of Atlanta wasn't asked to put up that much money, nor was it asked to build a new stadium, the mayor said. Still, the Braves did ask for extensive public investments in the publicly owned stadium and the surrounding area, money that Reed said he didn't feel the city could give now, given other needs and the desire to keep spending and debt in check.
The mayor pointed specifically to a $922 million infrastructure backlog and desires to upgrade roads, expand public spaces and pursue other improvements across the city.
"If we made a different decision," Reed said, "every single dollar for everything else would have gone to fund and modernize the stadium."
Critics have pointed out that, in recent months, city money has been allocated for another stadium in downtown Atlanta: $200 million for a new home for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons.
Reed took pains to state that the two stadium deals "candidly are not close." The Falcons' one uses revenue from the city's hotel-motel tax but doesn't tap the government's general fund, as a Braves stadium deal might have done.
Plus, the mayor added, "I certainly was not going to try to finance two stadium deals at the exact same time."
The team's contract with Turner Field, which was retrofitted for baseball after the 1996 Olympics, expires in 2016. Club President John Schuerholz said in a video message that Turner Field needs "hundreds of millions of dollars of upgrades. Unfortunately, that massive investment would not do anything to improve access or the fan experience."
He vowed that the new stadium site "will be one of the most magnificent in all of baseball. It will thrive with action 365 days a year." The surrounding area will be a "mixed-use destination," he said.
As to what will then happen with the Braves' current home, Reed says it will be demolished to make way for "one of the largest developments for middle-class people that the city of Atlanta has ever had."
The mayor pointed out that it wasn't like the Braves were leaving the region altogether, insisting that they are and will remain his favorite team. And he credited Cobb County officials with stepping up to make a strong offer.
"$450 million in public financing is a pretty good deal," Reed said. "We can't spend money that liberally in the city of Atlanta. We are fiscal conservatives here."