Atlanta’s Duriya Farooqui responds to story on what city could have done to keep Atlanta Braves at Turner Field

By Maria Saporta

Earlier this week, I wrote a story about what it would have taken to keep the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. The story was based on interviews that I had had with team officials as well as people close to the situation during the negotiations.

Late yesterday, I received an email with a response from Duriya Farooqui, chief operating officer for the City of Atlanta, who was one of the key players in the negotiations with the Braves, taking issue with several of the points I made in the article.

I believe her letter provides great insight and more detail on the issues that were involved in the negotiations with the Braves, so I wanted to share the entire letter with readers.

This story continues to evolve as more information comes to light. As always, I will do my best to give you as clear a picture as I can of what is at play. And I do like to share the views of those who have different views than mine so you can draw your own conclusions.

Thank you for following us in our quest to make Atlanta as great a city as it can be.

City of Atlanta’s COO Duriya Farooqui’s letter:

It’s disappointing that Maria Saporta uses an incomplete and inaccurate set of facts to develop a false narrative that the City of Atlanta took its eye off the ball in our work to support and keep the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field.

The truth, quite frankly, is harder for many people to accept. The Atlanta Braves decided that they want to move to Cobb County, and the lure of a brand new $672m stadium nearly half-financed ($300m) by taxpayer dollars was an offer that was simply too good to refuse.

Perhaps by now, many readers have seen the illustration of a map depicting where Braves’ 2012 ticket buyers are located. It’s easy to see the vast majority of their tickets are purchased in the Northern Arc that includes Cobb, Gwinnett and North Fulton counties.

See it here: http://homeofthebraves.com/overview/#prettyPhoto

Claiming that the Braves “would have been happy to stay at Turner Field” if only four demands had been met is wrong, misleading and a gross oversimplification of the facts.

For example, if that’s the case, why did the Braves deliver the City a proposal in late September outlining 16 points that they wanted addressed?  (see below).

The City’s project team told the Braves that we would get back to them by mid-November. Yet, on Nov. 7, the Braves came to the Mayor’s Office and announced they were moving to Cobb County.

It is clear that the Braves were already deep in conversation with Cobb County officials, perhaps well before they developed their 16-point proposal.

The notion that the city dragged its feet flies in the face of reality. We wanted the Braves to stay here in the city, and we engaged in good-faith negotiations with the Braves for nearly 18 months based on the Turner Field lease expiring three years from now, in 2016.

It is true that we were simultaneously negotiating with the Atlanta Falcons. But there are several critical differences in these negotiations. As an aside, I recall that Ms. Saporta cheered for the City to pursue the Falcons’ preferred site for the new stadium and purchase the “two Black” churches that stood on it, saying it was important to the city’s economic development. It is completely disingenuous to now imply that our energy was wasted on those complex deals.  The Falcons transaction required urgency because of the construction schedule required for a 2017 opening.

The Falcons made it clear they immediately wanted to start work on a new facility; the Braves effort required making improvements to existing Turner Field, where their lease was to expire in another three years. It’s also worthy to note that Falcons’ owner Arthur Blank was personally involved in arriving at a solution for a new facility for his team.

In addition, the city’s $200 million contribution to the new Falcons’ stadium required an extension of the hotel/motel tax by the Georgia General Assembly, a revenue stream that already existed; the city is not responsible for that debt. Furthermore, 84 percent of the hotel/motel tax comes from visitors to our city, not our residents.

This hotel/motel tax also brings in an additional $8 million to $10 million a year for the city’s general fund.

Improvements to Turner Field ranged from $150 million to $250 million, and would’ve required a direct hit to the city’s general fund, most likely through bond indebtedness. We simply weren’t willing to put our taxpayers at risk for that amount.

Ms. Saporta estimates the Braves needed about $350 million total over 20 years, of which $150 million would have been required by the City. She reduces this to a $5 million to $10 million a year commitment, an amount we anticipated delivering through the redevelopment of the area included in an RFI we issued in September 2012. If that was enough to keep the Braves at Turner Field, they would have accepted this but instead in September 2013 they asked for $150 million in public funds on top of a $10 million annual guarantee (see attached proposal). This is effectively double the simplistic estimate in Ms. Saporta’s column and would require committing approximately $20 million per year in public funds for 20 years.

Suffice to say, our taxpayers expect us to tackle a backlog of $900 million in infrastructure to improve our roads, bridges, traffic lights and green spaces.

Let me be clear: The Braves did have our attention. We wanted them to stay in the city and were working with them to make that happen.

The City bent over backwards to provide information and identify solutions for the Braves.  We fully recognize the importance of the Braves’ to the economy of the City; no one disputes that. That is why we worked so hard to arrive at a solution amenable to all.

Other key points in the story that required more facts:

The Atlanta Fulton-Recreation Authority. We agreed with the Braves that we would seek to reduce or eliminate the Atlanta-Fulton Recreation Authority’s role at Turner Field.  However, they fail to understand that as long as the City and County are liable for a $50 million capital improvement debt on Turner Field, we cannot dissolve the authority. Further, it would take action by the Georgia General Assembly to do so. We were willing to provide the Braves full control of Turner Field, and believe this was a settled point with the club.

Redevelopment of the area surrounding Turner Field. The Braves wanted to be a partner in the development, and they also wanted to be a partner in the specification of the RFP and on the selection committee that picked the development partners.  By State procurement law, City procurement ordinance, and County procurement law this would have been an unallowable conflict of interest and it would have jeopardized the entire redevelopment effort.  In May we asked the Braves to let us know whether they wanted to partner with a developer or participate in the selection of the developer.  Either scenario would have been fine; we just couldn’t permit both.

The proposed Maglev system. The City wanted this to work, and in fact we aggressively pursued bringing the proposal to life over the summer months.  MARTA, GDOT, GSU, the Federal Highway Administration, Atlanta DPW, the Governor’s office, and multiple other state and local agencies were contacted and in some cases brought together by the City.  Unfortunately the technology provider recommended by the Braves was unable to substantiate their financing and demonstrate that the project could be delivered safely.

The bottom line is this: The Atlanta Braves were offered an opportunity to build a brand new stadium in the heart of their fan base, with only just more than half of the funds coming out of their own pockets.

That sounds like a savvy business decision to me.  I believe that we did everything in our power to keep the Braves in the heart of the city, where they belong.

 

Negotiating Points in Atlanta Braves letter of Sept. 19:

ANLBC Requirements for Development and Operating Agreement Renewal

(ANLBC stands for Atlanta National League Baseball Club) 

ANLBC Development Requirements

  • Annual guarantee paid to ANLBC equal to the greater of $10,000,000 annually (increasing by annual CPI) or 25% of all annual gross revenue of the development (including, without limitation, rental, lease, parking, advertising or other revenues).
  • ANLBC to control and retain rights to sell naming rights and related advertising and sponsorship inventory for the development and to retain all revenues from such sale.
  • No signage, advertising, branding, retail or other exterior promotional exposure for any competitors of ANLBC exclusive sponsors (See Exhibit A for protected categories which may be amended from time to time by ANLBC).
  • No fast food restaurants other than one (1) coffee shop (e.g. Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks).
  • No third party retail may sell Braves merchandise or tickets within the development.
  • Limit to two (2) sports bars and two (2) fine dining restaurants within the development and must be on the northern part of the development a minimum of 1,600 feet from front gates of Turner Field.
  • Retail, office, hotel and residential unit specifications – See Exhibit B
  • No adult entertainment clubs, pawn shops, tattoo parlors, liquor stores, title loan shops, automotive shops or other industrial business or any establishments that may be offensive or vulgar to the community or Braves’ fans.
  • Development must include deck parking to accommodate 8,600 cars for use during all games by ANLBC.
  • Development must include additional transit options (maglev, light rail, bus, trolley, etc.) and ingress and egress improvements.

Turner Field Operating Agreement Renewal Requirements

  • Capital Improvements listed in Exhibit C to be made to Turner Field in 3 phases – 2016, 2017 and 2018.
  • ANLBC to fund $50M of improvements, AFCRA to fund $50M and City/County to fund other $50M over the 3-year period (2016 – 2018).
  • Capital Improvements going forward after 2018 to be funded 50/50 by ANLBC and AFCRA/City/County until such time as development is generating annual minimums set forth above ($10,000,000) after which time ANLBC will assume 100% of Capital Improvement funding obligation.
  • AFCRA oversight to end in 2014 (including relinquishment of Turner Field office space) and ANLBC to deal directly with City of Atlanta.
  • ANLBC to assume management and oversight of all parking agreements and special events at Turner Field including GSU and County parking agreements.
  • ANLBC and AFCRA/City/County will amend and restate current Operating Agreement and extend term for an additional 20 years.

EXHIBIT A – LIST OF ANLBC EXCLUSIVE SPONSORSHIP CATEGORIES 

Sporting Goods

Wireless Services and Devices

Moving Companies

Non-alcoholic Beverages

Alcoholic Beverages

Internet, Cable and other new media platforms

Airline

Credit Reporting

Gas Provider

Power Provider

Cooling, Heating & Plumbing Companies

Credit Card

Banks and Financial Services

Auto Parts

Hospital

Home Improvement

Waste Management

EXHIBIT B – RETAIL, OFFICE, HOTEL AND RESIDENTIAL SPECS 

Phase One

  • 250 Apartment Homes
  • 175 Hotel Rooms
  • 25 Condo and Townhome Units
  • 10,000 feet of retail square footage
  • 50,000 feet of restaurant/entertainment square footage

Phase Two

  • 250 Apartment Homes
  • 200 Hotel Rooms
  • 25 Condo and Townhome Units
  • 10,000 feet of retail square footage
  • 75,000 Office space square footage
  • 50,000 feet of restaurant/entertainment square footage

EXHIBIT C – 2016 – 2018 CAP EX LIST 

See Attached List reflecting approximately $153M of infrastructure related capital expenditure needs for Turner Field.  Note attached list does not include approximately $80M in ANLBC desired architectural related improvements which will drive additional revenue opportunities and will keep Turner Field competitive with other MLB venues.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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