The Atlanta Braves’ hurried approach to planning its new Cobb County stadium is facing more devils in the details.
Citizens for Governmental Transparency, a group of residents opposed to the stadium, said it is working on a legal challenge to block the stadium’s public funding. In addition, local parking lot owners are reportedly unwilling to share crucial spaces with stadium visitors.
CGT's Rich Pellegrino admits to Creative Loafing that contesting the county's $397 million bond issuance for the stadium is a long shot. Grassroots legal foundations have declined to support the group's fight because of the low odds, he says.
"We haven't given up, but we may be on the losing end of the Braves battle. But we're winning the war," Pellegrino says. "The old way of doing business is gone forever here."
Braves spokeswoman Beth Marshall says the team can't comment on the bond challenge because the county handles that particular matter. But, she adds, the Braves "have complete confidence in our [government] partners" that they will handle any challenges.
CGT's main target is a July 7 hearing where a judge must review the county's approval of the bond issuance. Typically a formality, the hearing is technically a legal debate, and CGT hopes to shoot down the deal through legal friend-of-the-court filings.
"We've found sufficient evidence of what we feel are illegalities, in terms of the state constitution, to proceed with an intervention," Pellegrino says. "We feel there are smoking guns."
But, he acknowledges that such challenges often fail. One recent loss happened when a group of Vine City residents unsuccessfully blocked stadium bonds for the Atlanta Falcons proposed $1.3 billion stadium.
Judge C. LaTain Kell, who will review the bond issuance, might recuse himself due to local political ties. In a June 24 letter to attorneys, he wrote that he has a “possible conflict of interest” because he sits on the pro-stadium Cobb County Chamber of Commerce’s board. Kell has not decided what to do yet, his office told CL last week.
If the bond issuance is approved, individuals and groups in the CGT coalition might consider filing civil lawsuits, Pellegrino says. He notes that would take a long time and a lot of money, and could open plaintiffs to countersuits. One reason the bond amount swelled from $267 million to $397 million is that it now includes funds to fight legal challenges — meaning taxpayers could wind up on the hook for their own lawsuits, Pellegrino says.
"The whole thing is really a 'Saturday Night Live'-type [situation]," he says.
Practical dilemmas like the parking situation could become an unexpected hurdle to the stadium plan. The Cobb plan counts on renting a large number of spaces from neighboring commercial developments. But many of them are saying no due to impacts on their own tenants, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported last week. Connie Engel of Childress Klein Properties, which manages one coveted parking location, said they welcomed the team but didn’t want to concern tenants. The Braves are now looking at lots up to 3 miles away, the paper says.
Marshall says the Braves are "maximizing" the onsite parking in their plan and "working daily" with surrounding property owners on seeking rental deals.
"With opening day nearly three years away," she says, "we have plenty of time to secure an adequate amount of parking spaces for our game-day fans, as well as those who visit the [related new] mixed-use development, and ensure they can walk safely to and from the ballpark."