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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Council passes measure urging Reed to fight for the Braves

Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond
Thought City Hall would let the Atlanta Braves move to Cobb County without a fight? Think again. The Atlanta City Council has paved the way for Mayor Kasim Reed to restart talks with the ball club - and one councilmember thinks he's found funding to keep the team at Turner Field.

Councilmembers yesterday afternoon voted 11-2 to pass a resolution urging the mayor to keep negotiating with the team and, in the process, trump the suburban county's plans of poaching the Braves.

"We need to act, we need to present in a public fashion that we are serious about [having] the Braves remain in Atlanta," said Councilman Michael Julian Bond, who introduced the proposal.

The measure would allow the mayor to bargain with Braves executives and the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority, which owns Turner Field, and convince the club to extend its stay at the former Olympic stadium. Bond's proposal ordinance initially authorized Reed to negotiate with up to $200 million from an unidentified source. But an exact dollar figure was removed at the insistence of other councilmembers prior to casting their votes.

"This resolution is about making a statement from the Atlanta City Council that we want these negotiations to continue," said Bond, who added that his move wasn't a half-hearted appeal. "We want them to remain in the city."

The mayor's office last night did respond to CL's request for comment. Same goes for Cobb Chairman Tim Lee, who secretly brokered the suburban county's incentives packages, which includes at least $300 million in public funding. A Braves spokeswoman declined to comment.

Councilwoman Felicia Moore, who chided Reed over his lack of transparency during negotiations, expressed concerns that the legislation was "a day late and hundreds of millions of dollars short."

"We weren't even knowledgeable of what was going on," Moore said. "That rests solely with the mayor and his negotiating team."

Added Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean, who joined Councilman Kwanza Hall in voting against Bond's resolution: "In a bidding war, there's only one person who's going to win. And that's the team."

Bond told CL in an interview last night that he's talked with the Reed administration, the Downtown business community, Fulton County officials, and fellow councilmembers about his proposal. In addition, he spoke with the Braves front office.

"I let them know we are willing to go the extra mile to get them to stay," Bond said. "[Braves executive Mike Plant] was clear that they're on a path to go to Cobb County. Since they don't have a deal inked I think it's the responsible thing to try and lure them back any way we can. Or at least express that in an official capacity."

He says the city has an advantage over Cobb in that Atlanta already has a key piece of what the Braves are seeking: the "bricks and mortar." And he says he's identified a source of funding - the pot of cash that built Philips Arena - that could be tapped to keep the team at Turner Field.

Using cash to help keep the team in Atlanta would quickly re-open the public-funding debate that erupted earlier this year during talks over the proposed Atlanta Falcons stadium - and which Cobb residents are discussing over bringing the baseball team to the wooded area near I-285 and I-75. Bond thinks the potential backlash over subsidizing the team is worth it.

"The Braves bring, the estimates go as high as $100 million to the economy," he said. "Not having them inside the city proper - or inside Fulton County - will be a tremendous economic blow to our city."

He added: "There's also a spiritual blow. It's a blow to the spirit of the city because the Braves have been so closely identified with Atlanta for so long - almost as long as I've been alive. I don't know Atlanta without the Braves and frankly don't want to. I'll do everything I can to encourage [the team to stay]."

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