Braves hope for full capacity at Truist Park by June

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Mar. 24—MARIETTA — The Atlanta Braves hope to open all 41,084 seats at Truist Park in June, Braves Development Company CEO Mike Plant said Tuesday.

Addressing the Cobb Board of Commissioners with an update on The Battery Atlanta, Truist Park, and the MLB All-Star Game, Plant said the team hopes to reach a full reopening ahead of the Midsummer Classic, as the game is known, in July. The stadium will have a phased reopening starting at one-third capacity in April and half capacity in May.

The plan is contingent on the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic, Plant said. President Joe Biden has promised to have enough vaccines available for every adult in the United States by May, coinciding with the stadium's expanded capacity of 50%.

County officials say the ambitious timeline, if achieved, would be a much-needed boost both to business activity in the Battery and surrounding environs, and Cobb's tax revenue. As Finance Director William Volckmann told commissioners, the county's hotel-motel tax alone dropped from over $3 million collected in 2019 to just $419,000 in 2020.

Along with the bump in activity from regular Braves games, commissioners hope the All-Star game will yield big returns on the $2 million expense for security and transportation during the multi-day affair.

"We believe it's the first, probably, global event that will take place in North America that will have full-capacity crowds," Plant told the board.

Major League Baseball told the Braves the event could have an economic impact between $37 million and $190 million, a number cited by Volckmann in a memo recommending the board approve the $2 million expenditure. And Plant told commissioners the MLB will be tasked with footing the bill for off-site security expenses at locations such as the Galleria, which was a sticking point for Commissioner JoAnn Birrell at the board's meeting on Monday.

Speaking after Plant's presentation, east Cobb Commissioner Jerica Richardson said she's primarily focused on working with the Braves and the MLB to bolster her district.

"We're aiming to sing our best song ... and it's really a chance for us to highlight, honestly, what's incredible about Cobb County," she said. Richardson added she wants to create a stakeholder committee for her district, "to make sure that residents are fully engaged with this event."

"Large events can either bring headaches, or they can bring really great opportunities and experiences. And so we're going for the latter there. No headaches."

Asked whether she supported the expense, Commissioner Keli Gambrill said rejecting it wouldn't get the county out of a financial bind.

"The stadium, the Galleria, CPAC are all funded in a general fund through a hotel-motel tax. If we don't do something to get that hotel-motel tax up ... you are going to have to then go back to the taxpayers' pockets to cover that shortfall," Gambrill said.

The expenditure is not without its critics, who have questioned the big returns touted by the MLB. Most vocal among them has been Kennesaw State University economist and county development authority board member J.C. Bradbury, who has cast doubt on the promised economic boom.

"Most of the studies showed no impact or a negative impact on local economies ... there have been no such studies that have found anything close to that," Bradbury said of the promised eight to nine-figure returns.

Plant, for his part, said he didn't know how the MLB arrived at the $37 million to $190 million estimate.

Bradbury went on to explain that, according to the literature he's examined, most of the attendees at such marquee events as All-Star games are local residents, whose sales tax dollars are already going to the host counties. And besides, he argued, much of the revenue from the hotel-motel taxes will go straight to servicing the county's debt for the stadium.

"I don't cry a single tear for Major League Baseball or (Braves owner) Liberty Media after the county's already given them $300 million-plus in taxpayer revenue. It's insulting to even ask for it," Bradbury said. "It's going to be pretty hard when commissioners who are voting for tax increases later on have no problem handing over $2 million to the Braves."

In other business, commissioners discussed a solution to their ongoing disagreement over appointments to the county development authority board. Chairwoman Lisa Cupid has previously said she wants to make board appointments more equitable across districts.

On Tuesday, Cupid said she would bring forth an agenda item codifying a system where five of the appointments are divided among the district commissioners, along with the chair. The other two seats on the seven-person board will be chosen by the Board of Commissioners as a whole.

Gambrill, who first raised the issue in February after one of her nominees was blocked (she appointed Bradbury to the board in 2019), raised neither question nor comment during the discussion. Afterwards, she said she had not been included in the discussion over the nomination process.

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