Over the past year, the Home Depot co-founder and Atlanta Falcons owner has had lengthy talks with Major League Soccer officials about potentially bringing one of four planned expansion teams to the city sometime between 2015 and 2020.
It's been a while since Blank, whose proposed Falcons stadium plans include administrative offices for a professional soccer team, publicly commented on the prospects of an Atlanta soccer club. But Blank gave a brief update to veteran Atlanta reporter Maria Saporta on how the talks are going:
"You look at the crowd, and you see the spirit that's here," Blank said during a 10-minute sit-down interview in his suite during the game. "It is a great tribute to Atlanta and the appetite that Atlanta has for soccer at the highest level.
Asked about the status of his talks with MLS to buy an expansion team, Blank said: "I would say they are substantial."
Is a deal about to be announced?
"All I will say is that the talks are substantial," Blank said. "They have an interest in Atlanta. They love Atlanta, and we obviously know Atlanta. We are building a world-class sports facility for professional soccer. If you look at their map, there's a huge hole in the Southeast, and Atlanta is the hub of the Southeast."
MLS Commissioner Don Garber sounded pleased at the turnout for this week's friendly matchup between Mexico and Nigeria, which drew more than 68,000 fans to the Georgia Dome, and said that these kinds of events help MLS make decisions about where to expand the league. When asked about Atlanta, he replied:
"This has exceeded our expectations," Garber said. "It has exceeded the expectations of the Mexican Federation. This is a bold statement of support for high-level soccer in the Southeast.
"The sport continues to show signs of real growth. This will represent an opportunity for all of us who want to see MLS come to Atlanta."
The expected price tag for an MLS expansion team is estimated between $70 million and $100 million, Saporta says based on other recent transactions.
The idea for the Surge comes from veteran Atlanta ad exec Mike McDonald, a self-proclaimed lifelong baseball fan, who wants to bring a second Major League Baseball team to metro Atlanta. And he wants the Surge's slogan to be the following: "Let's Turner Lemon into Lemonade!"
The AJC's Tim Tucker, who first reported on the proposal last night, writes from behind the AJC's paywall:
He has presented the idea to some local politicos and business folks. He has talked to lawyers about how to challenge MLB. He even wrote a letter to the Tampa Bay Rays, asking if they'd be interested in relocating. The Rays haven't responded and McDonald has decided he'd prefer the fresh start of an expansion team.
McDonald already has a name in mind for the AL team he seeks: the Atlanta Surge, drawn from the city motto Resurgens (Latin for rising again). He envisions the city and county receiving an equity stake in the team in return for use of the venue, and an investor group operating the team with him. He says MLB should waive an expansion fee as a way to settle the damages of the Braves leaving the city limits.
He expects people to "take shots" at his plan and says that is fine.
McDonald believes that Atlanta and Fulton County are "owed" a team for their longstanding financial and emotional investments into the Braves' franchise. But it's unlikely the region will land another ball club. There's not enough demand, according to one expert. Plus, the Braves have exclusive rights from MLB for all home games played in most of the metro region - which could be problematic.
The Atlanta Braves declined to comment on the prospects of the Surge. But at least Fulton County Commissioner Robb Pitts said the proposal was "a magnificent idea." That's a start!
The Sochi 2014 Olympics were my fifth as a credentialed journalist for the Olympics.
I tried to come up with 17 behind-the-scenes stories, one for each day of the Games, that are all a little off kilter and show a side of the Olympics you are unlikely to experience without being an accredited member of the press corps. To spare the fine readers of Creative Loafing any more pain, I limited myself to 15.
A Russian tradition is to wish everyone "good luck" as a form of goodbye.
Before knowing this is traditional, at the end of my check-in process in Sochi, a volunteer said goodbye with: "good luck."
It was an ominous start for my month at the Games.
Mason Zimmerman, a Cumberland Community Improvement District board member, raised his hand last Novemeber in favor of $10 million in upgrades to the area's transportation infrastructure. He also cast a non-binding vote in favor of creating a special taxing district, one that Cobb County commissioners later approved, which is expected to bring in $5.1 million annually to help pay off the county's stadium debts.
So what's the problem, you ask? Zimmerman works as a senior vice president for Pope & Land Enterprises, an Atlanta-based development firm that's now a finalist to construct the estimated $400-million mixed-use project scheduled to be constructed next to the Braves new stadium.
The AJC's Dan Klepal and J. Scott Trubey report:
Zimmerman and Tad Leithead, chairman of the Cumberland Community Improvement District, strongly disagree. They say the vote came well before Zimmerman's company, Pope & Land Enterprises, knew enough about the project to consider bidding for the high-profile lead developer role.
"The vote was about the prospect of the Braves (moving) and how can we facilitate it," Zimmerman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His vote, he said, had "no connection whatsoever to what might happen in the future."
Zimmerman is a senior vice president at Pope & Land, part of a two-company development team that could make millions of dollars if picked by the Braves to handle the project. The Pope & Land team is one of two finalists, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week.
Braves execs started accepting bids for the private development one month after the Cumberland CID approved the transportation funding. The team is currently evaluating potential finalists for the upcoming development to compliment its proposed $672 million sports facility. Zimmerman has promised to recuse himself from all future votes involving Braves-related projects.
Lots of people yesterday were stranded in Atlanta. So many that it forced Gov. Nathan Deal to declare a state of emergency across all of Georgia.
But if you're friends with Chipper Jones, like Atlanta Braves' first baseman Freddie Freeman, things weren't so bad. The former Braves third basemen and accidental arsonist helped out his old teammate, who was stranded like thousands of other Atlantans, get home 11 hours after he started his commute.
Thank goodness for @RealCJ10 ! Saved me on a 4 wheeler! pic.twitter.com/ljXDEULJC9
- Freddie Freeman (@FreddieFreeman5) January 29, 2014
I'm thinking abt sending @RealCJ10 on rescue runs..any takers? Rescuing @FreddieFreeman5 now... pic.twitter.com/WjFuT8qyBV
- Taylor Higgins (@lilgeorgiapeach) January 29, 2014
They made it home safe and sound! #thankful @RealCJ10 @FreddieFreeman5 pic.twitter.com/KBO59VL1HU
- Taylor Higgins (@lilgeorgiapeach) January 29, 2014
He hugged me the whole way home!
- Chipper Jones (@RealCJ10) January 29, 2014
Home after 11 hours...
- Freddie Freeman (@FreddieFreeman5) January 29, 2014
After a few days to digest the news of the our beloved Atlanta Braves moving away from my neighborhood, 12 miles north to Cobb County, many things have become apparent to me. The biggest one being things are not always what they seem. I live in Summerhill, the small forgotten neighborhood where the Atlanta Braves reside, and I'm proud to have called this my home since 2002. I also love my Major League baseball neighbors, the Atlanta Braves. As neighbors go, the Braves have been very good to us over the years supporting our efforts to improve our community.
Having been involved in my neighborhood over the years, we had been promised growth and development by the city for many years. When the Olympic Committee chose Atlanta as the site for the 1996 Olympic Games, they donated the stadium at the conclusion of the games and the Braves had a new home. The promises of revitalization, post-1996, were a series of empty promises. Not only for our neighborhood, but for the Braves organization as well.
Before Atlanta Braves fans settle into their seats at the proposed Cobb County stadium, they'll first stroll down a pedestrian boulevard featuring retail shops, restaurants, hotels, residential units, and office space.
Should county commissioners sign off on the team's new $672-million facility, Braves executives would partner with a developer on a privately-funded, $400-million mixed-use project. If team has its way, the adjacent development would open alongside the new stadium in 2017.
Team reps think the development would create a year-round experience complete with greenspace and an entertainment district that could extend beyond the club's 81 home games each season. Here's a few ways how the club's execs think it'll transform the area. So say the Braves in a document released to the public:
* The development will be a destination for community life, including significant amounts of street-oriented and neighborhood-serving retail, parks and green space.
* By incorporating green space into the design plans, the Braves are seeking to preserve existing terrain and habitat for the benefit of public use.
* The planned Cumberland District Circulator will alleviate the need for all parking to be located on site, fostering a walkable community that extends from beyond the site's footprint.
* Proper planning will allow for improved connectivity to the surrounding community to positively affect property values, quality of life and public safety.
In yet another document, which you can find below the jump, the franchise provides more details about the proposed mixed-use project. It also includes a few aerial renderings as well as a sketch of what the majestic walk to the new stadium might look like.
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]."
One week ago today, metro Atlanta residents were digesting the Atlanta Braves' stunning announcement that the team would likely move from Turner Field to a new stadium in Cobb County. Bits of information last week provided insight to Cobb's enticing offer and Atlanta's failed negotiations. Now we're finding out more regarding the team's internal decision-making regarding the move and surrounding development deals.
The AJC spoke with six Braves executives - including CEO Terry McGuirk, President John Schuerholz, and Executive Vice President of Business Operations Mike Plant, among others - about how the $672-million stadium deal took shape. In Tim Tucker's article, which is worth a full read behind MyAJC.com's paywall, he outlines how team executives worked quietly and quickly - even staving internal rumors about a potential sale - to finalize the move.
Months ago, the executives agreed to a code of silence about what they were up to. They required the same from anyone they had to bring into the process as a deal moved closer to completion with Cobb.
"I couldn't be more proud of a group of senior executives than our group for getting this done in the manner we got it done and keeping it contained and completely confidential," Schuerholz said. "They worked tirelessly to get a process that ordinarily takes three or more years done in months without it becoming public."
Schuerholz acknowledged "some people are dismayed" by the secrecy that surrounded a matter so important to Braves fans and Cobb County taxpayers. "But it was the only way we could go about this," he argued, "because of the timing and the impact on our relationship and partnership with the city and our about-to-be-new partnership with Cobb County."
While the Braves were busy in secret negotiations, the area they were planning to call home was becoming quite popular. Prospective real estate investors over the past few months acquired land near the stadium's proposed site. Last Friday, the Atlanta Business Chronicle highlighted one noteworthy $45 million deal near the new stadium's proposed site:
So what did the Atlanta Braves want from the city to stay at Turner Field? According to documents obtained from Mayor Kasim Reed's office, the team's executives wanted to split the cost of stadium renovation costs between the city, county and Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority, get out from under AFCRA's oversight and deal with City Hall directly, and manage parking.
The team also wanted a list of requirements on whatever development was selected to transform the mammoth parking lot across the street from The Ted. Among them: a parking deck that could accommodate 8,600 cars, a ban on certain types of businesses "that may be offensive or vulgar to the community or Braves' fans," and limits on the number and location of fine-dining restaurants and sports bars. It'd also prohibit certain advertisements promoting competitors of the Braves' exclusive sponsors.
Oh, and "ANLBC" stands for "Atlanta National League Baseball Club."
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