So based on last week’s election returns, I’m guessing that Cobb County Commission Chair Tim Lee won’t be throwing out the honorary first pitch next year when The House That Lee Built, aka SunTrust Park, opens its doors to fans.
Sure, Lee may be there. I can certainly imagine him sitting in one of those well-appointed taxpayer-subsidized corporate suites, shmoozing with executives from Liberty Media to whom he gave away the store, its contents and the land and mineral rights beneath the store. But he’ll probably be there as a private citizen, not as Cobb County commission chairman.
Last week, Lee’s re-election effort drew the support of just 40.4 percent of Cobb Republicans. That showing allows him to survive — barely — into a runoff round scheduled for July 26. However, the history of such runoffs tells us that incumbents who fare as poorly as Lee in the first round rarely win in the second round. A mid-summer turnout will matter, but those angry at Lee’s arrogance and incompetence in negotiating the Braves deal appear pretty motivated.
In fact, it’s hard to read the outcome of Lee’s race as anything but an overwhelming rejection of the man who secretly committed hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money to build the stadium, who lied and misled and withheld public documents to ensure the stadium was built, and who stymied every effort to open the publicly subsidized project to public scrutiny and input. Mike Boyce, the retired Marine colonel who will oppose Lee in the runoff, made Lee’s role in the stadium process the focus of his campaign, and the voters responded.
Now, it probably didn’t help that the Braves are on pace to be one of the worst teams in baseball history, with a turnaround years off in future. When John Malone, the billionaire owner of Liberty Media, bragged last month that thanks to the Cobb deal, “the Braves now are a fairly major real estate business, as opposed to just a baseball club,” it only added to the sense that Cobb taxpayers had been snookered.
It’s the same every time. Fans and politicians look at it with romance in their eyes; team owners look at it with a clear eye on the bottom line. Guess who comes out best? There’s just something obscene about cash-strapped local governments being forced to cough up hundreds of millions of dollars to build luxurious playing fields for athletes making tens of millions of dollars, on behalf of owners making billions of dollars.
That applies as well to the taxpayer-subsidized stadium now being built in Atlanta for the Falcons. The public subsidy for the Falcons facility is considerably less than in Cobb, and the process by which it was decided upon was much more open and honest, but the principle and the outcome are the same. The economic impact will never justify the taxpayer investment.
That’s true even though last week, Atlanta officials celebrated the announcement by the NFL that the city had been rewarded the 2019 Super Bowl. The game will be played in the Falcons’ new stadium, which was built to replace the old stadium, which was also built under the promise of getting the Super Bowl. I’m tired of the game.