Town of Atlanta and also the Braves: A Condemned Affair
December 21, 2013Steve FennessyComments
To begin with, we journalists owe Atlanta city taxpayers a groveling apology. When news broke on Veterans’ Day the Braves were decamping from Turner Field to Cobb County, City Hall was hit with sufficient Open Records demands to choke a goat. We’re told city lawyers reviewed some five-hundred 1000 emails, and from that mountain of information launched 600 approximately towards the media on Thursday mid-day, presumably fulfilling all of the demands in a single fell swoop. I almost requested the mayor’s spokesperson, Carlos Campos, the number of hrs it required city lawyers to examine all of this, but the possibilities of the solution was too depressing.
Also depressing-as well as mind-mind-numbing to the stage of drink-continues to be the entire process of dealing with these emails, because we know just how it ended. Which would be to say, badly. (Aside from John Schuerholz and the co-workers, obviously, whose commutes to operate is going to be considerably reduced. Oh, and Cobb County Commission chair Tim Lee. But that’s another story.)
Act One: The foreshadowing
In reviewing your email, one wonders, was the writing on your wall way in October 2011, once the Braves outlined four choices for the team’s future publish-2016, the entire year its existing lease would expire? That memo outlined individuals choices briefly. First, the Braves could renew their lease using the Atlanta Fulton County Entertainment Authority (titular proprietors of Turner Field) in return for money for capital enhancements towards the Ted. Second, the Authority could simply transfer possession from the Ted towards the Braves. (“Transfer of property produces political challenges for that Town of Atlanta and Fulton County leadership,” the October 7, 2011 draft memo states.) Third, the choice the Braves clearly preferred (at that time, anyway) ended up being to craft an openOrpersonal partnership to build up the region round the ballpark. Naturally, though, they wanted control, as we’ve described. There is a 4th option briefly pointed out: Develop a new stadium elsewhere-“a cornerstone of a big mixed use development near nearly all our group of followers.Inches
Your email raise other questions, too. Less profound ones, possibly, but entertaining still. Like, so how exactly does Mike Plant, the Braves’ executive v . p . of economic procedures, determine what words to capitalize in the emails? The other American aside from the city’s now suspended deputy chief operating officer Hendes Utz uses the word “mucking about”? And, finally, why on the planet was the mayor’s own press team not accustomed to the Braves’ decision to depart town once the mayor themself was accustomed to it four days earlier?
Act Two: Let’s talk!
But I’m getting in front of myself. Let’s rather return to Feb 2012, when Plant emailed Duriya Farooqui, its COO. Flagging his message as “red,” the Braves professional authored: “I want to generate a time and talk with you soon to go over ideas about how we proceed with this suggested Public/private partnership for that redevelopment from the Turner Field stadium site.”
I won’t bore you with the particulars, however this email marked the start of what Mike Plant might now call “The Big Brush-off” but city authorities might term “Mike Plant Must Chill the Hell Out.” As winter brought to spring brought to summer time, Plant grew to become more and more anxious to satisfy with Farooqui, who, as COO, was frequently busy along with other stuff. They finally decided to meet on June 29, 2012. Your email I reviewed didn’t disclose how that meeting went (or maybe it also happened), however in late This summer, Plant emailed numerous city authorities in conclusion a conference he’d with AFCRA chairman Jim Hughes. In the email, Plant stated he’d assured Hughes the Entertainment Authority might have a seat in the discussions, but Plant wasn’t too hopeful about county leaders adding anything helpful. “Very couple of,” he authored, “have any real knowledge of their role within the stadium complex given that they have invested zero dollars because the stadium was built.”
Farooqui was unperturbed. “The lease renewal is much more than three years out,” she authored. In another email later within 24 hours, she authored Plant, “the conversation will start in serious 2 yrs later.” Bear in mind it was This summer 27, 2012. She clearly didn’t share Plant’s growing feeling of emergency.
Which isn’t to state City Hall was disregarding the Braves. In August a group in the city, including Farooqui, visited Turner Field to go over watershed enhancements. An agenda was hatched to construct a vault underneath the media lot, based on a period presented to us through the city. Along with a month later, InvestAtlanta, its economic development arm, asked designers to submit “requests for ideas” to change the 55 acres of presidency-possessed parking lots along with other qualities round the stadium right into a vibrant mixed-use destination, where fans might really prefer to linger pre and post games. Plant, it appeared, was encouraged through the progress. By November, when his point person at City Hall was Utz, Plant was an enthusiastic cheerleader for which made an appearance to lie ahead. Within an email to Utz, Plant characterised a job interview he did with Jim Galloway from the AJC as “real positive. Told about our public/private partnership and also the great working exposure to the mayor and the sr team.”
But by winter of 2013, the brand new Falcons stadium had hi-jacked all of the headlines. On Feb 20, Plant sent Utz a hyperlink for an AJC story concerning the latest development to satisfy Arthur Blank’s desire to tear lower the Georgia Dome and make a brand new stadium. “Seems like lots of obstructing and tackling today,” Plant authored. “I’m sure we’ll cope with much of the identical within the to not distant future it doesn’t matter how different our future plans are in comparison towards the Falcons. … I understand u mankind has both hands full.”
Utz, possibly studying between your lines, attempted to maneuver the Braves to the leading burner. Inside a Feb 26 email to deputy city attorney Peter Andrews, Utz requested for any date once the city’s team could talk with the Braves. “May?” Andrews authored back. Obviously, though, Utz handled to schedule an early on meeting in March, however the city needed to out.
Plant wasn’t happy because the maid-matron of honour to Arthur Blank’s bridezilla. On March 20 he authored an e-mail that, of all of the documents left through the mayor’s office, most succinctly distills the mounting tensions between your team and City Hall. “have to tell the truth along with you Hendes, that transmits a really bad message that now I must spread to the chairman who I briefed yesterday around the current status and approaching discussion. I believe we should talk soon. If your perception from your perspective, we met using the mayor and peter [Aman, former city COO] in October of 2011. 18 several weeks later we’re no further along in resolving the 3 major aspects of our discussion presented in those days. However, we’ve viewed the condition pass a significant funding initiative for any new falcons stadium which has gone through all of the proper channels including approval through the city council in 7 short days.”
Utz passed Plant’s concern upstairs to Farooqui. “This most likely requires some love of your stuff,Inches he authored. “I don’t think he’s being particularly reasonable. They know just how much work the brand new dome has needed, they know the conversation is going on instantly, and that he recognizes that his conversation isn’t as imminent from the timing perspective.” Utz continued to state that talks hadn’t advanced because “aside from me all the people needed to succeed the conversation happen to be deep in football stadium talks.”
Farooqui wasn’t hearing it. “Got it,” she authored Utz. “However, our stadium talks started 4 days ago so we started the [Braves] working group annually ago…so we can’t attribute insufficient progress towards the National football league stadium.”
Eight days later, on March 28, Plant came back in the Central Atlanta Progress breakfast, where Arthur Blank and Wealthy McKay presented Reed having a Falcons jersey in recognition from the new stadium deal. Plant fumed. “Reminded me,” he authored Utz, “that I haven’t been told by Duriya and that i belive [sic] you would re make sure april eighth is really a concrete date for all of us to satisfy.Inches
In April, Plant arranged a visit for that Braves’ series at Coors Field in Colorado from the Rockies. He asked condition political figures, in addition to city authorities. “The Colorado stadium area is a superb illustration of what we wish to do around Turner Field.”
Around the same time frame, Atlanta magazine deputy editor Rebecca Burns ran a tale about Turner Field that will run within the This summer issue. Inside a May 20 email to Sonji Jacobs, an old Reed representative, Burns requested if there is any discussion about the potential of the Braves departing Turner Field for an additional location in metro Atlanta. Jacobs, who obviously would never know concerning the plans for redeveloping the parking lots, passed the issue along to Farooqui, who advised Jacobs, “There continues to be no discussion concerning the Braves departing. Should you not address, individuals will think that it may be possible.”
Curiously, that very possibility was talked about in the This summer 2013 board meeting from the Atlanta Fulton County Entertainment Authority. Based on the minutes, which cite they because the source, “if there’s no development around Turner Field, then, they will move and search for another city/stadium/place for playing Mlb.Inches
Act Three: Along with a maglev shall rule all of them
Now starts negligence the storyline I’ll call the truly amazing Story Book, also known as Maglev. Sooner or later, Plant started to determine maglev transit as you response to the congestion which had Braves fans-and commuters-stuck in traffic on game days. Estimations to construct a maglev line from Five Points station to Turner Field ran up to $$ 30 million. To hold people under two miles!
Plant soldiered on. Within an April 10 email to Utz, he stated the Braves would commit $500,000 to the whole process of the maglev. “We believe using OPM (other bands money), this can be a very viable solution for all of us to understand more about,Inches Plant authored. The other party’s money? Whose? Ira Curry’s?
But by August, City Hall was examining the optics of the maglev line. Tom Weyandt, the mayor’s senior policy consultant for transportation, authored Utz an in depth email outlining his “top from the head” concerns about maglev. What’s the outcome around the sidewalks, the streets? Who’s funding it? (Didn’t you hear, Tom? The other party’s money!) How can it use MARTA? What’s the constant maintenance plan? And so on.
Weyandt searched for more particulars in the Spanish company supplying we’ve got the technology, but wasn’t pleased with the solutions, which, he authored to Farooqui, “just indicates how speculative this can be.Inches
Still, as costly because the maglev looked to become, it had been peanuts in comparison to the possibilities of stretching the streetcar from downtown to Turner Field. Believed pricetag for your? Around $110 million. Even mass transit followers were skeptical.
“For what it’s worth,” Nathan Constable from the Atlanta BeltLine stated within an April 5 email to Utz, “I have strong bookings about ending the road at Turner Field. It might work nicely for baseball games and may replace a few of the GSU and Fulton County shuttle activity, but will not have a powerful residential or employment base around it before the parking lots redevelop.” Quite simply, it might be a train to nowhere 284 days annually. Constable stated it might be preferable to increase the Atlanta Streetcar line into Summerhill or Grant Park, supplying connectivity to Zoo Atlanta.
Act Four: A modest proposal
On September 19 of the year, the Braves launched a list of demands towards the city when the team ended up being to remain at Turner Field. They incorporated:
$ten million annually or 25 % (whichever was greater) of
revenue round the development, for example rentals, lease, parking,
No fast-food restaurants apart from one coffeeshop, like a
Dunkin’ Inflatible donuts.
A restriction of two sports bars and 2 “fine-dining” restaurants,
as long as they were a minimum of 1,600 ft from Turner Field’s front
No strip clubs, tattoo parlors, liquor tales, car title loan shops,
auto shops, pawn shops “or any institutions that could be
offensive or vulgar towards the community or Braves’ fans.”
Additional transit options, for example light rail or….maglev!
$150 million in capital enhancements towards the stadium over three
years, to become split evently one of the Braves, the Authority, and
the town and Fulton County.
An finish to Entertainment Authority oversight from the stadium.
Braves to consider total parking contracts.
Incidentally, if you are wondering what that $150 million in enhancements incorporated, the Braves incorporated a summary of no less than 60 products. Good examples: changing all 17 video boards (for $17 million) new “directional signage” (for $342,500) new carpeting ($3.six million) repaving the parking lots ($29 million) you will find, new greasetraps.($126,000. For brand new greasetraps!)
The Braves’ attorney, Greg Heller, described to his counterpart at City Hall, Peter Andrews, that, “it is crucial that people make significant progress and achieve consensus when possible.”
Boy, he wasn’t kidding. Because with that time, Plant along with other Braves executives were already in talks with Cobb County, getting together with the 60-acre site in August.
Indeed, trouble was brewing. Andrews authored Heller the Braves could have fun playing the buying process for that developer, but wouldn’t have final say. In addition to this, City Hall and also the Braves weren’t seeing eye-to-eye about how revenue in the development would fund enhancements in the stadium.
Twelve miles north, Tim Lee was rubbing his hands together in glee.
Act Five: Goodbye Atlanta Braves, Hello Smyrna Shitholes!
Braves authorities, including Plant and Schuerholz, broke this news to Reed and Farooqui on Thursday, November 7. As Campos characterised it within an email to all of us on Thursday, “The Braves never gave the town an chance to counter any offer from Cobb, or other town or entity. They abruptly, and unexpectedly, introduced these were relocating to Cobb, running counter as to the we believed up to that time have been good belief discussions.”
Whether Reed was surprised at this news, his team it was caught flat-footie the next Monday once the Marietta Daily Journal broke the storyline four days later, on November 11-gathering the AJC around the greatest social story in Atlanta inside a generation. (But we’ll save that for an additional day.) Campos, fielding reporter queries from everywhere, emailed his co-workers, “I’m unaware.” Utz, who’d been dealing with the Braves for over a year, clearly felt burned, dashing off his now-infamous “Smyrna Shitholes” email. Seriously, though, are you able to blame him?
It had been a lengthy trip to City Hall, as reporters were scrambling to parse the implications of the Atlanta institution relocating to the ‘burbs. Katie Leslie, an AJC reporter, even sent Utz six sentences from the story she ran, asking him to “take a glance at this…I’m afraid of the error on deadline.”
In Cobb, the champagne had been on ice.