BRADENTON, Fla. - Public financing for the Atlanta Braves' $672 million stadium may face an additional obstacle, as officials expect opponents to appeal a court ruling validating $397 million of municipal bonds.
Cobb County Superior Court Judge Robert Leonard released a 38-page ruling at 5 p.m. on Friday validating bonds that will partially finance the new Major League Baseball facility. The bonds will be issued by the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority through an interlocal agreement with Cobb County.
Leonard overruled petitions to intervene in the validation that were filed by a dozen local residents opposing the project, and said that the stadium bond deal is lawful. He also said that proper procedures were followed in the approval of the financing. In addition to arguing that the proposed financing didn't meet the standard required for validating the bonds, the project's opponents attempted to challenge Cobb County's assertion that no new or increased local taxes would go toward the project.
The Cobb-Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority is "extremely pleased that the judge saw that the validation petition met the requirements of Georgia law," said Kevin Moore, a partner with Moore Ingram Johnson & Steele, which represents the authority.
The Exhibit Hall Authority will own the stadium and the land once the bonds are issued, he said. But there could be further delay issuing the bonds if the intervenors pursue their legal challenge to the Georgia Supreme Court.
"I believe an appeal is very possible," said Moore. "Certainly any of the intervenors have a right to appeal. Whether they want to spend the resources and effort to do so is certainly their decision."
The Braves are moving to the northwest corner of the Interstate 75 and I-285 intersection in Cobb County, about 14 miles away from Turner Field in downtown Atlanta where they have played since 1997.
Bond proceeds will go toward construction of a 41,500-seat stadium.
The bonds will be secured by a variety of funding sources. The team will contribute rent, naming rights, parking, marquee advertising, and cash. Cobb County will contribute funds from an existing hotel/motel tax, a special tax district, a rental car tax, and other fees.
Most, if not all, of the bonds are likely to be sold as taxable debt due to the inclusion of certain private funds in the financing repayment stream, local finance officials have said previously. The Braves are also contributing an additional $280 million in cash toward the project.
Butler, Snow, O'Mara, Stevens & Cannada PLLC is bond and disclosure counsel. Public Financial Management Inc. is the county's financial advisor.
The Braves also purchased property adjacent to the ballpark where it plans to privately finance a multi-use development of retail, restaurants, residential, hotel and office space to increase the team's year-round profitability.
If the MLB stadium bonds are appealed as county officials expect, the Braves will be the second professional sports team from Atlanta whose public financing is stalled because of the legal process.
The National Football League's Atlanta Falcons received notice June 5 that their bond validation would be appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court.
Despite the pending appeal, the Falcons have begun work on their 71,000-seat, retractable-roof stadium next to the Georgia Dome, where the team currently plays in downtown Atlanta.
Five opponents living near the project filed a notice of intent to appeal the $278.3 million in revenue bonds that were validated by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville in May.
The 30-year bonds will provide $200 million for construction. The additional $78.3 million is for capitalized interest, reserves, and issuance costs. The bonds will be secured by a hotel/motel tax collected in the city.
The Falcons will pay $1 billion of the project costs from the NFL's G-4 loan program, team debt, equity, and personal seat licenses.