I Told You So

Gwinnett County’s new baseball stadium will cost nearly 50 percent more than originally planned, officials revealed Friday.

The 10,000-seat stadium for the top minor league franchise of the Atlanta Braves will now cost $59 million. County officials initially projected the stadium would cost $40 million….

The Gwinnett County Commission will vote Tuesday on spending $19 million from the county’s reserve fund to pay for the increased costs. The county has already spent $12 million from its recreation fund to pay for the project.

But, Gwinnett County officials are not concerned.

“While it appears somewhat shocking I guess how big the increase is, it is not shocking to us,” said Richard Tucker, chairman of the Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau board. The tourism agency is spearheading the project for the county.

I don’t recall such warnings when the project was announced. But I do remember that it was going “to pay for itself from day one” (no, I’m not going to let Jock Connell forget that he said that). This statement was unbelievable based on the previous cost estimate ($40 million in stadium construction and $5 million for land).

I’m not surprised either, because cost overruns are typical in all government projects. In fact, here’s a list of five predictions I made about the stadium on April 02, 2008.

1. This stadium will cost more than $45 million to build.
2. The total annual value of the naming rights deal will be less than $500,000.
3. Gwinnett County residents will see their taxes go up.
4. In 15 years, the Braves are going to use the out clause—non-binding commercial mediation…are you kidding me?—to seek significant improvements to the stadium.
5. Despite the obvious financial losses, the government officials will claim the project was a success, as will the Gwinnett Daily Pompon.

Prediction 1 has already come true. First, the interest the County has to pay on the debt went up. Now the stadium construction costs have risen 50 percent. I’ll go out on a limb and predict that this won’t be the last cost increase.

Prediction 3 will come true, because the revenues will not be sufficient to cover the cost of the stadium. The county is in such financial straights that it has stooped to desperate measures.

The government is facing tough financial times, implementing a hiring freeze except for public safety officers and asking police and firefighters to be careful about using gasoline. But Nasuti said the reserve fund is created for these kind of investments.

Prediction 5 is partially true. Nasuti is still praising the project, but the GDP hasn’t taken as stand on the subject yet—though, the paper deserves credit for reporting the story.

Commissioner Bert Nasuti, said the changes will be looked back on in coming years as wise investments for a project he said will generate much more revenue for the county than it will cost taxpayers.

“We’ve got only one opportunity to build it right,” he said.

We’ll learn about prediction 2 in the coming months and prediction 4 in 15 years.

If you see a public safety officer filling up at a local Gwinnett gas station, be sure to yell “Go Braves!”

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