By Andre Jackson
Great opportunities carry responsibilities of a commensurate weight. Cobb County officials should recognize that truth, now that they’ve enticed the Atlanta Braves to ditch the downtown Ted for new digs alongside I-285.
Last week’s bombshell announcement of the Braves’ intent to set up shop in Cobb by 2017 left metro Atlantans puzzling over what it all means for our piece of America’s pastime.
Regrettably, questions far outweighed answers last week, even though Cobb County leaders have fast-tracked for Thanksgiving Week approval the $672 million proposed stadium development at a nexus of the Northern Arc.
Regardless of whether Cobb officials agree, the Cobb-Braves announcement brings a large, influential occurrence squarely before our entire region. And it’s now up to metro Atlanta, and likely even the state, to collaboratively determine whether we capitalize on it to mutual gain – or get pummeled by its backwash.
Consider the best of what the Braves represent. The team’s a unifying force in a far-flung metro of competing, and at times combative, ideas and interests. We expect all that to hold as true in a future Cobb County home as it does now at Turner Field.
In that sense, Cobb County officials have wrested a regional crown jewel from the city of Atlanta. That’s the breaks of business.
Cobb officials must realize, though, that their actions mean this game’s now about far more than just Cobb. County leaders must understand this added responsibility, and begin to lead accordingly.
They’re off to a poor start in that regard. The news of the team’s move was not accompanied by details of the winning deal. For too many days, leaders who should have known more — not to mention the public — were left to speculate over things such as who would be paying how much, and for what.
Secrecy around the deal did a great disservice to this metro. It took until last Thursday for a three-page sketch of the proposal to be made public. And even that less-than-timely disclosure lacked needed details. Merely saying the equivalent of “don’t worry, we’ve got this” falls far short of acceptable standards of government transparency or respect for the electorate.
Worse, Cobb leaders so far seem pretty singularly focused on the impact to Cobb. That’s pretty amateurish, given that uprooting the Braves will have ripple effects far beyond the otherwise well-run county. Traffic. Water. Economic impact. Worker access to stadium jobs. And so on. There’s little evidence at this point that Cobb leaders have duly considered these area-wide impacts. It’s clear they have yet to begin a regional conversation about them.
It will now fall to the rest of the metro, and state, to begin figuring out workarounds to the challenges that the new stadium development will present. What transpires from all that will likely showcase the weaknesses inherent in a major metro like ours having inadequate mechanisms for regional action, let alone broad decision-making.
In that sense, it will be interesting to see what unfolds once the Atlanta Regional Commission begins an expected study of the Braves-Cobb proposal. The little-known Georgia Planning Act calls on planning bodies like the ARC to examine what’re called “Developments of Regional Influence.” Given its size and impact, it’s impossible to imagine that the stadium project won’t meet the triggers requiring such an inquiry.
DRI review should closely examine the area’s costs incurred from uprooting the Braves. Given what’s at stake for the metro, the review should be both thorough and expeditious. Just imagining what motorists will endure on I-285 on game days makes plain the need for a deep review.
Many logical questions come to mind in considering this project. It’s too bad Cobb officials didn’t think broadly enough to begin answering them first.
That said, Cobb leaders have made a bold bid for the regional asset that is the Braves. Their actions ahead must now reflect collaboration, wisdom and prudence — and not just audacity.
The rest of metro Atlanta, and all fans of our beloved team, will be watching their every move. Our collective self-interest demands no less.
Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.