ATLANTA — Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said “one of the largest developments for middle-class people that the city has ever had” will go up at the site of Turner Field after the Atlanta Braves move to Cobb County.
In his first public remarks since the MLB franchise spurned Atlanta, Reed vowed Tuesday he would “not leave a vacant Ted” and said the facility would be torn down. He also said he would not try to interfere with Cobb’s deal, but said he wanted to make the “unmistakable message” that the city wants the team to remain.
If the deal succeeds, he said, he’s not worried about his legacy, promising a “significant” announcement that will prove he made the right long-term decision for the region.
“We’re not walking around here moping. I hate losing. But there are times when other people make plays,” he said, adding: “We’re not losing anything. The Braves are still in the region so I don’t feel like this is a loss.”
Reed said the Braves asked for between $150 million and $250 million for infrastructure improvements for the team to remain downtown. He said that would have left the city “absolutely cash-strapped” and unable to chip away at a nearly $1 billion infrastructure backlog.
“Atlanta is not that liberal with our spending,” said the mayor.
He also addressed criticism that he focused too much on keeping the Falcons downtown while the Braves quietly negotiated a path to the ‘burbs.
“I fundamentally believe that people elect leaders to win for them. And so I certainly wanted the Atlanta Braves to stay in the city of Atlanta,” Reed said. “But I want to be very clear: There’s not a difference in treatment between the deal we negotiated with the Falcons and the Braves.”
Reed said the Braves made “very aggressive” demands from the city. He also said there was “absolute fatigue” from city councilmembers about backing a second stadium with more tax dollars.
“This is a very important distinction from folks at home,” he said. “I’ve been talking about roads, bridges and infrastructure the entire time I’ve been in office. We have a $922 million infrastructure backlog that has to be dealt with. We were not taking this lightly.”
Plenty of questions remain. Perhaps the biggest involves how Cobb County intends to finance the county’s share of the new stadium? Cobb Commission Chair Tim Lee told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he would soon inform commissioners of the financing package, but wouldn’t say what it will entail.
One possibility is a hike in the hotel/motel taxes, often a preferred route for politicians who would rather levy taxes on visitors than residents. Plus, doing that also wouldn’t necessarily require a public referendum. But skeptics question whether the county’s tourism base is deep enough to float a new stadium. And even if it is, it’s no cakewalk. Ask Atlanta leaders who tied the partial public financing of the $1.2 billion Falcons stadium to higher hotel taxes.
Just how much Cobb will chip in is still an open question. Reed has said the county is ponying up $450 million but Lee wouldn’t confirm that figure and the Braves pushed back on that assertion on Tuesday, saying in a statement the team will pay a “significant amount of the expense” but that the exact number has yet to be finalized.