Report: Braves’ stadium costing Cobb County taxpayers $15M annually

(Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels)

(The Center Square) – The Atlanta Braves’ ballpark and The Battery development around it is continuing to cost Cobb County taxpayers about $15 million a year, according to a new report from Kennesaw State University economist J.C. Bradbury.

Bradbury looked at the financial effect of the Braves’ stadium, Truist Park, and surrounding development at its five-year mark, showing the ongoing cost to move the Braves from Atlanta to Cobb County remains $50 per household per year.

The Braves estimated the ballpark cost approximately $722 million to build with $330 coming from the team and $392 million from Cobb County, the Cumberland Improvement District and the Exhibit Hall Authority.

While the Braves pay $6.1 million annually in rent to the county, much of the debt service falls on taxpayers.

“We were told this was the single greatest economic development project in the history of Cobb County,” Bradbury said. “And it looks like the deficit is about $15 million a year … the stadium is not a ‘Home Run for Cobb’ as it was touted.”

Bradbury’s report focused on economic impact reports from before the stadium was built and the complete tax information on what is used toward debt service for the stadium, beyond general fund payments, which were capped at $300 million.

“Our Finance [Department] hasn’t fully been able to read Mr. Bradbury’s work,” Cobb County Public Information Officer Ross Cavitt said when asked about the annual taxpayer obligation in the report. “The amount contributed from our general fund is considerably less than $15M, in fact, it is well below the $6.4M listed in our initial estimates.”

Those include a hotel-motel tax, countywide rental car tax and an additional special service district 3% hotel room tax and 3% property tax. Cobb County Finance Director Bill Volckmann said during last year’s annual Braves stadium update to the county board that $72.8 million in taxes were collected from those four funds between 2015 and 2020.

“That tax revenues from non-general fund categories are allocated to cover the County’s stadium funding obligations does not mean they are not a cost to taxpayers,” Bradbury wrote. “After [the Braves’] annual $6.1 (million) rent payment, Cobb taxpayers are on the hook for the remaining stadium debt, which is backed by the full faith and credit of the county. The county is also responsible for other remaining expenses, which amount in total to about $18 million per year.”

Bradbury’s report argued most car rentals are done by local residents, making those local tax obligations despite believing those countywide rentals are mainly unrelated to the Braves.

“Nearby visitors drive their own cars,” Bradbury wrote. “More distant travelers who fly to Atlanta for stadium events might rent cars at the airport, but the airport is not located in Cobb.”

The Braves’ parent company Liberty Media, recently announced in its earnings report the team took in $526 million in baseball revenue in 2021, along with $42 million in revenue from The Battery. The team had $457 million in expenses.

Bradbury said the interesting part comes when making the comparison between revenue from The Battery and other retail operations, such as a Walmart store, which on average brings in $70 million in annual revenue, according to 2019 figures from the company.

“That’s about half of Walmart,” Bradbury said of the $42 million in The Battery revenue. “That’s not a city. That’s not a huge development. People overestimate the economic impact of these new huge developments and what they’re doing to these communities.”

Bradbury pointed to economic development reports before the stadium opened and how they were flawed, calling them “not credible” and setting up expectations that could not be met by the stadium. One example is a 2013 report from Brailsford & Dunlavey that projected the stadium would bring in $171 million in benefits to Cobb County over a 30-year period. A 2017 update projected that number to be $178 million.

One component Bradbury said often is overlooked in economic impact reports preceding a project is sales at the new development often take away from sales elsewhere. It is not new money spent, just a transfer of spending that doesn’t add to overall county sales tax collections.

“If it’s only increasing county sales $3 million a year but it’s $4.6 million (in sales) at The Battery, that tells me that about one-third of that spending at The Battery is coming from local spending, spending that would have been happening in Cobb anyway,” Bradbury said.

— Jon Styf

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