Saturday, November 29th, 2014
Half-True
Revitalize Cobb
The new Atlanta Braves stadium will require no tax increase for homeowners and provide $3 million annually for Cobb County schools.

Revitalize Cobb on Friday, November 22nd, 2013 in a flier

Pro-stadium group paints an incomplete picture

If you think Cobb County should spend more money on schools, not a taxpayer-funded home for the Atlanta Braves, a pro-stadium organization wants you to think again.

A glossy mailer funded by Revitalize Cobb, a nonprofit interest group, says that a new stadium will bring more education dollars. Just do the math.

"9,241 New Jobs + $295,000,000 in Wages + $0 Tax Increase for Homeowners + $3,000,000 Annually for Cobb Schools = 1 Great Deal for Cobb Residents," the ad said.

Put this way, bringing the Braves to Cobb does seem like a no-brainer. But we here at PolitiFact Georgia know enough to question any number we meet. We asked the Truth-O-Meter to check Revitalize Cobb’s arithmetic.

PolitiFact will check Revitalize Cobb’s jobs and wages figures in an upcoming story.

The additional schools money would come from a $400 million retail and entertainment district that the Braves plan to build adjacent to the stadium, a representative for the group explained in an email.

The group says there will be no tax increase for homeowners because the stadium won’t cause their tax bills to rise.

Both estimates are conservative, the spokesman said, especially since the money for schools does not include income from sales taxes.

First, let’s consider the claim that there would be no property tax increase.

It isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. Before the Braves stadium plan, property taxes were set to decrease.

Cobb homeowners currently pay taxes to pay for parkland. Once this bill is paid off in 2017 and 2018, these taxes are gone.

If Cobb commissioners do nothing, homeowners’ yearly tax bill would drop by about $20 for a $200,000 home.

But now that the Braves stadium is in the works, to pay the county’s $300 million share of the bill, commissioners will have to vote to increase property taxes for the general fund by the amount they would have decreased.

Whether this counts as a "$0 tax increase for homeowners" is debatable. In 2019, a Cobb homeowner’s tax rate may be the same as it is now, but it will be higher than it would have been if the Braves had stayed in downtown.

(The county plans to exempt homeowners from a special tax it will levy for properties near the new stadium, said James Pehrson, Cobb County’s finance director. Owners of apartment buildings will pay the special tax, and experts say landlords often pass such costs on to tenants.)

Now, let’s consider the claim that the Braves will bring $3 million annually for Cobb schools.

These funds would come from property taxes on the Braves’ planned retail and entertainment district, which is slated to open ahead of the 2017 season.

Early plans for the first phase of the project describe a pedestrian boulevard with stores, restaurants and maybe a hotel. A second phase is supposed to have residences and office space.

Revitalized Cobb made its education dollars claim based on a back-of-the-envelope calculation. Its calculations show that under current tax rates, a $400 million property would produce some $6 million each year in additional property tax revenue.

Schools would receive about $3.02 million, which is some $3 million higher than the $143,000 the land currently produces for schools.

But  there is no guarantee in the Braves’ agreement with Cobb that the team will invest $400 million for the entertainment district.

This could pose a problem. Early visions for other mixed-use projects near sports venues have proved to be too optimistic.

The proposal for Brooklyn’s Barclays Center included 4.4 million square feet of residential property, 2.1 million square feet of commercial office space and 300,000 square feet in retail space, according to a 2003 news release posted on a watchdog blog devoted to the stadium project.

Developers originally said it would take 10 years to build. The state has since agreed to give them decades more to finish the project. Construction has begun on only one of the apartment towers.

On the other hand, there’s San Diego. In the 1990s, the Padres’ owner guaranteed $487 million in new real estate development for the struggling neighborhood surrounding the team’s planned ballpark. It would include features specified by the city.

A 2012 study found that the number of higher-income residents has increased and real estate values were more stable than those in other intown neighborhoods.

But the Padres’ impact on downtown San Diego may be nothing like the Braves’ impact on Cobb. As we mentioned previously, the Braves’ investment is not guaranteed. And the Padres invested in downtown development as inner-city neighborhoods across the country are revitalizing. The Braves’ planned development does not have this advantage.

Another strike against Revitalize Cobb’s claim is that even if the Braves do invest $400 million into a development, the property’s tax value may not equal that amount. The value for tax purposes could be higher or lower, depending on sales values, rents and other factors.

And if the Braves build it, will they come? Game attendance might tank if the team falters.

Stadium goers might pass up the entertainment district’s restaurants if they fill up on hot dogs and beer inside the stadium, said Lake Forest College professor Robert Baade, an expert on the economics of sports.

What’s worse, even the Braves’ most die-hard fans might think a condo by the stadium is not their idea of Home Sweet Home.

"People do not want to deal with drunken louts on game day and people walking on their lawn. Or doing worse on their lawn," Baade said.

In sum, Revitalize Cobb’s statement is accurate but leaves out loads of important details that would give a reader a different impression if known.

The projected $3 million increase for schools is difficult to predict and depends on many factors all lining up.

The tax increase angle is more clear-cut. A homeowner’s overall 2019 property tax rate may be the same as it is now. But a reasonable person may consider the Braves deal a tax increase over the amount he or she would have paid if the team had stayed in downtown Atlanta.

By PolitiFact’s definition, this amounts to a Half True.