Saturday, November 23, 2013

Roasting the Cobb

The great thing about being a blogger is that you can't get fired for saying inflammatory stuff because you're not getting paid, even when you write inflammatory stuff. Of course, that's also the downside to being a blogger, but there are times when the inflammatory stuff just has to be said.

(To be fair, some of the fun of the inflammatory stuff is ticking off the right people. Getting knuckle-dragging chest-thumpers into a tizzy is better than everything on basic cable except maybe Finding Bigfoot.)

So here's a thing: The Braves' new stadium, which already has people lined up around the block to defend it because, umm, well, I haven't figured that part out yet, except they've succumbed to a virulent form of self-abnegation whereby they identify so strongly with their fandom that they are willing to advocate against their own interests to show public support for their team.

That being said, it seems increasingly clear that the new Cobb County-based stadium for the Braves is nothing but an engine for real estate speculation by an elite group of investors who somehow managed to snap up all the primo property around the stadium site in the weeks leading up to the supposedly "surprise" announcement. Regardless of how they claim the deal is structured, it's going to facilitate an enormous transfer of cash from the public purse to the private, and by "private" I mean "the bottom line of a corporation based in Colorado, not Georgia, because that's where Braves ownership is located". It will make what is already a nightmarish traffic and parking situation far worse, generating increased air pollution, worsening air quality in the area and adding consumer costs in terms of fuel spent and additional wrecks due to congestion. It will potentially harm local businesses, not that doing so is apparently anything new for the Braves. And it's built on a pack of deeply ugly lies.

One of the Braves' main rationales for getting out of their teenaged ballpark was "insufficient parking and transportation access". The new park will have fewer parking spaces than the old one. It will have worse highway access. It will rely on parking spaces at local malls - hence the optimistic "30K parking spaces within two miles of the park!" nonsense they spun, never mind that most of those spaces A)feed other businesses which might object to their paying customers getting squeezed out of the lot and B)are generally already spoken for. As for public transportation, local political leadership has already made it very clear they're not going to allow any sort of rail system from Atlanta into the pristine wonderland that is Cobb County; their goal is to bring in cars from the northern and eastern suburbs. (Southern suburbs and Buckhead residents, among others? You, too, can suck it.) This is, of course, a thinly disguised way of saying they don't want the Poors having easy access to their sparkly clean neighborhoods, shopping, and blushing virginal daughters, but then again, Cobb's been saying that with a loud, quavery voice for a very long time. Which begs the question, I suppose, of how the people who are going to be driving the elaborate "tram" system the Braves claim will get their patrons from their cars to the stadium are supposed to get to their jobs, but hey, logic went out the window a long time ago on this one.

So where were we? Worse traffic, worse parking, arrant bullpuckey, potentially illegal land grabs based on insider knowledge, a financing plan that is so fishy it's gotten the Tea Party and the Sierra Club to join forces to protest it. And the $400M "Entertainment district" the Braves are planning to slap down around the stadium is precisely the sort of project that hasn't gone well in St. Louis, or Richmond, or, well, lots of places. It's all smoke and mirrors, a beautiful dream sold wrapped in promises of "economic growth" that very quickly turns into cost overruns and revenue shortfalls - just ask the fine folks of Minnesota about their e-pulltab revenues for a new stadium - and somehow the team still manages to hoover up stadium profits.

Not that any of this will stop the project. The county commissioners are plowing ahead, not allowing a public hearing, and not putting the matter to a vote because it would apparently cost too much money. (The irony, it is strong in these folk). What relation they might have with the folks whose pockets are getting lined I refuse to speculate on; to do so in the absence of evidence would be irresponsible. 

But I will say this: in a couple of years, when the traffic backs up and the bills come due and the revenues somehow mysteriously require the public to end up paying more for this beast of a stadium despite all the heartfelt promises that it wouldn't increase taxes on anyone important (read: resident, instead of tourist), a Cobb County that's already deep in the red and laying off the teachers who make its schools such a sexy reason to flee Atlanta proper just might want to take a long, hard look at the politicians who greased this thing's way through the back door and up to the public trough. 

And to those who say "wait and see" or "they've surely planned for this" or "why you hating on the Braves", I humbly suggest that every bit of scorn being dumped on this boondoggle is born of the fact that we have seen this before, and every damn time the public gets soaked. We've seen it in Minnesota, where the state went gaga finding creative funding to hand over to a racketeer, and we've seen it in Texas, and New York, and Cincinnati, and pretty much every damn city that's built a stadium to benefit a sports team. If you're OK with that tradeoff, fine and good on you. That's your call. But don't keep carrying water for the millionaires who dip their hands in the till. Don't buy the fantasy numbers they throw at you with solemn pinky-swears that this time, this time there won't be more public money spent. Do a little research - read some DeMause or Zimbalist - about what you actually get out of a stadium (hint: it ain't good-paying jobs) and then make an informed decision about how much you're really wiling to ask your neighbors to pay.

But that's all wishful thinking. And so's this: the next time some charming gent with a baseball team and a proposal sidles up to a city and whispers sweet nothings about "private-public partnership" in their ear, the city looks at the train wreck we're going to see in Cobb County, and thinks twice.
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