BRADENTON, Fla. — The Georgia Supreme Court Monday cleared the way for the issuance of $368 million of bonds to partly finance the Atlanta Braves' $672 million baseball stadium.
In a unanimous, 43-page decision, the justices said a trial court properly validated the bonds on July 25, 2014, and that three appeals challenging the validation were without merit.
The Major League Baseball franchise plans to move from Turner Field in downtown Atlanta to the new Cobb County stadium, 14 miles away, in 2017.
The bonds will be issued by the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum & Exhibit Hall Authority through an intergovernmental agreement with Cobb County, which will pay debt service from various revenue sources and will provide a backup pledge of its full faith and credit.
Team contributions also will go toward debt payments.
"In terms of this moving forward, we have been waiting a long time," said Coliseum & Exhibit Hall Authority special bond counsel Matt Nichols, partner at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP. "We are pleased with the results and expect with this confirmation this [offering] will move pretty quickly having reached this milestone."
Attorney Lesly Murray, whose firm Butler Snow LLP is bond counsel for Cobb County, said the ruling upholds past court decisions regarding stadium finance in Georgia.
"Butler Snow, as bond counsel working closely with the Cobb County Attorney and a team of excellent attorneys representing the issuing authority and the Atlanta Braves, is pleased that today the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the trial court's validation of the stadium bonds supported by a long history of precedent," Murray said.
Details of the transaction, including when the bonds might be issued, were not immediately available.
Georgia's Supreme Court concluded that the intergovernmental contract between the authority and the county is valid, and that the issuance of the bonds would not violate the state's constitution or Georgia's revenue bond laws. Justices also said that the process used to validate the bonds was not deficient.
"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," Justice David Nahmias wrote in a nod to those opposing the project.
"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," his ruling said.
Cobb County is paying about 60% of the stadium's cost from the 30-year bonds, which will be secured in part with $10 million from the Cumberland Community Improvement District and hotel/motel and rental car tax revenues.
The Braves will contribute a minimum of $230 million to the project, and have signed a non-relocation agreement committing the team to playing home games at the new stadium from 2017 through 2046.
The Cobb-Marietta Coliseum & Exhibit Hall Authority will retain title to the 41,500-seat stadium, the site, and related public infrastructure.
The Braves will own certain improvements such as scoreboards, lockers, and a 6,000-space parking lot. The team also will keep revenues from the stadium, advertising, and naming rights. The facility is already known as SunTrust Park.
Adjacent to the stadium, the Braves are privately financing a mixed-use development of retail, restaurants, residential, hotel and office space to increase the team's year-round profitability.