BRADENTON, Fla. — Opponents of the Atlanta Braves' $672 million stadium in Cobb County intervened in the proceeding to validate $397 million of bonds for the new Major League Baseball facility.
A dozen local residents associated with various organizations signed petitions attempting to convince a Cobb County judge at a hearing Monday that the proposed financing does not meet the standard required for validating the bonds.
Cobb Citizens for Governmental Transparency said in a release before the hearing that they planned to challenge "the Cobb Board of Commissioners' assertion that there will be no new or increased taxes levied to fund the Braves move" to Cobb County from downtown Atlanta.
The group pointed out that the interlocal agreement between the county and the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum & Exhibit Hall Authority calls for the county "to levy an ad valorem property tax (if necessary) on all property in the county subject to such tax, in order to make such payments to the Authority."
Other groups and individuals argued at the hearing that the stadium served no public purpose because its main tenant will be the privately owned ball team.
In a letter to the judge, a group identifying itself as "concerned citizens of Cobb County" said the stadium financing should be rejected for a number of reasons, including the fact that similar deals across the country have been "abject failures" and studies have shown that communities do not benefit them.
Concerned citizens cited a number of articles about troubled stadium projects such as the $522 million Miami Marlins baseball stadium financing, which is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Despite the new ballpark that opened in 2012, Marlins attendance continues to be among the lowest in baseball.
The group also mentioned Hamilton County, Ohio, which financed $674 million to build stadiums for MLB's Cincinnati Reds and the National Football League's Cincinnati Bengals.
To raise money for the stadiums, voters in 1996 approved a half-cent sales tax increase in return for the promise of annual property tax rebates. Because sales tax revenues came in less than expected some years, some of the rebates were not offered.
They also pointed to articles about many years of controversy over public funding for private stadiums, and suggestions by some experts that Congress should ban the use of tax exempt financing for them.
Neither county officials nor their attorneys could be reached for comment.
In an earlier interview, Jim Pehrson, director of finance and economic development for Cobb County, said the Braves stadium financing is likely to be structured with taxable bonds because the team's annual $6.1 million in lease payments will be included in the revenue stream for payment of the debt.
The team will also contribute toward the 30-year bonds a total of $92 million in revenue from rent, naming rights, parking, and marquee advertising, in addition to a cash payment of $280 million.
Cobb County also expects to secure the bonds from an existing hotel/motel tax, a special community district, a rental car tax, and other fees.
The Cobb-Marietta Coliseum & Exhibit Hall Authority had expected to competitively issue the bonds backed by the full faith and credit and taxing power of county as early as September. That could be delayed depending on the outcome of the validation hearing.
Cobb Superior Court Judge Robert Leonard reportedly said during Monday's hearing that he expected to issue a ruling before the end of the month.
The Atlanta Falcons weathered a legal challenge and won validation of $278.3 million in bonds that are to help finance its new $1.2 billion National Football League stadium in downtown Atlanta several months ago.
Opponents of the Falcons deal have filed an appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court.