Ga. Supreme Court ruling casts pall over Cobb County funding of Braves stadiumThe Georgia Supreme Court has cleared the way for Cobb County to help fund construction of the Atlanta Braves' SunTrust Park. Credit: ballparksofbaseball.com
By David Pendered
In a ruling Monday that validated the sale of bonds for the Braves stadium, the Georgia Supreme Court said the deal “may push the law as far as it can go.” The order also raised the question of political ramifications of the transaction.
- “While aspects of the deal structure at issue may push the law about as far as it can go, it does not cross the line into illegality
- “In so holding, we do not discount the concerns appellants have raised about the wisdom of the stadium project and the commitments Cobb County has made to entice the Braves to move there. But those concerns lie predominantly in the realm of public policy entrusted to the county’s elected officials for decision, not in the realm of constitutional or statutory law. And to the extent the concerns affect whether the bond proposal is sound, feasible, and reasonable, we defer to the trial court’s findings on those factors, which were supported by evidence in the record. …
- “If the stadium deal does not fulfill the high expectations that have been set for it, there may be a significant political price to pay for those who negotiated and signed onto it. But under the law of Georgia as construed in the precedents of this court, we cannot say that the trial court erred in validating the bonds or that the validation process was deficient. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.”
Cobb County Commission Chairman Tim Lee released a statement Tuesday that focused on the fact that the ruling clears the way for Cobb to issue up to $397 million in revenue bonds to help pay for the stadium’s construction.
Lee wrote in an email:
- “The Georgia Supreme Court voted to uphold a local ruling that authorized nearly $400 million in bonds to build SunTrust Park – the future home of the Atlanta Braves.
- “As you know, SunTrust Park is expected to generate more than $100 million in annual economic activity and will ensure Cobb County as the “Home of the Braves” for 30 years. Construction is well underway and has already generated thousands of construction jobs and more than $250 million in contracts to businesses in Cobb County.
- “The high court’s unanimous decision is another step in the right direction for Cobb County and paves the way for progress as we prepare for Opening Day in 2017. …
- “As always, thank you for your continued support of our community. It is because of people like you that Cobb County remains the best place to live, work, and play ball!”
The court’s ruling recognized the county’s ambitions for the stadium, which were specified in an operating agreement between Cobb County and the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority.
According to the ruling, terms call for the authority to sell the bonds. The county is to pay the authority amounts necessary to cover the difference between licensing fees paid by the Braves and annual debt payments. The county agrees to pay up to $25 million a year for 30 years, with proceeds derived from the county’s hotel/motel tax, car rental tax, and general funds.
The ruling states:
- “The Operating Agreement states that the county and the authority ‘believe that the development and construction of the stadium will provide a significant and much needed catalyst for revitalization and continuing redevelopment of the property in the vicinity of the Stadium.’
- Further, in approving the bond resolution, the authority determined that “the financing, acquisition, construction, and equipping of the project will be in furtherance of the authority’s public purpose,’ and the county determined that the project will provide its citizens ‘continuing recreational benefit and other benefits’ and ‘will promote tourism, promote the economy, and bring other benefits to the county and the state.’”
The lawsuit was filed by three Cobb County residents who contended the bond validation approved by a Cobb Superior Court judge was incorrect. The appellants are Larry Savage, Richard Pellegrino, and T. Tucker Hobgood.
In its most recent rating action on the coliseum authority, in 2013, Moody’s Investors Service provided an investment grade rating of Aaa, with a stable outlook. Moody’s cited Cobb’s, “sizeable and diverse economic and employment base, a sound financial position supported by conservative fiscal management and satisfactory fund balance levels, and a low debt burden.”