Archive for Gwinnett Braves
Though it’s not my favorite movie of the Star Wars saga, the premise of The Phantom Menace is a good one. We begin with a few officials bending laws for personal gain. It’s a familiar occurrence in life, but it just didn’t feel right; there had to be something else at work. We later learn that the real problem is that the Chancellor is a Sith Lord, a much bigger deal.
There are no Sith Lords in Gwinnett County—nor the world for that matter—but I think we have now uncovered something more than a few politicians trying to score points as good guys for bringing a baseball team to town. Some discussion in Rick Badie’s AJC blog led to an interesting discovery. I am merely reporting what others have uncovered.
On October 18, 2007, a corporation operated by County Commissioner Kevin Kenerly purchased a large tract of land across the street from the site of the new Gwinnett Braves stadium. You can find a map on the Gwinnett County Tax Assessor’s site. The lot is shaded and is numbered 7146 002. The Gwinnett Braves stadium is being built across Buford Drive just south of Rock Springs Road.
The owner is not immediately apparent until you dig into government records. The listed owner of the lot is listed as I-85/GA 20 VENTURES INC (click on “View Details”).
Who runs I-85/GA 20 Ventures, Inc.? To find this out, we can go to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Corporation Division and search the record of corporations. There we find the following: Commissioner Kenerly is the CEO, CFO, Secretary, and Registered Agent of the corporation.
Next, let’s analyze the date of purchase of the land. When did discussion of bringing the Braves to Gwinnett begin? According to Daily Report, serious talks with the Braves began in October 2007.
Co-founding partner R. Lee Tucker Jr. and associate Christopher T. Wilson were lead counsel to the Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau on its negotiations with the Braves on moving the team’s AAA International League franchise to Gwinnett from Richmond, Va.
Tucker and Wilson said they’ve been in talks with the Braves on behalf of their client since October and there is much more legal work left to be completed, such as finalizing a long-term agreement between the Braves and Gwinnett and hammering out the details of a lease agreement on a new stadium.
Here is what we know. The County was engaged in negotiations with the Braves to bring its Triple-A club to Gwinnett
, and a sitting commissioner possibly used this inside information to purchase land that would benefit from increased traffic (see the update below). Furthermore, after the land purchase was made, and negotiations were ongoing, the commissioner had strong financial incentives to make sure the deal happened.
Following Tuesday’s meeting, where the Board allocated an additional $19 million to the stadium, Kenerly was bubbling with excitement over the new stadium.
“I’m excited,” said Commissioner Kevin Kenerly, who likened the decision to imposing the same standards on the county as he did in a rezoning case that day. “It’s going to cost more money, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be better for the community.”
UPDATE: AJC is reporting that the October sale of land was a transfer to of a 50 percent stake to his partners, not a new acquisition of land.
The decision Tuesday to spend another $19 million of Gwinnett County’s savings to pay for a 50 percent cost increase in the county’s new stadium was so straightforward, it didn’t require any public discussion or debate, county commissioners said.
The commission voted to spend the money as part of its consent agenda, a package of typically non-controversial items that on Tuesday included filling a vacancy on a golf commission, accepting the donation of dog food for the county animal shelter and spending $16.7 million to replace county transit buses.
Commissioners said the decision didn’t require public debate because there was little choice but to approve the money, without which project officials said they could not build the stadium currently coming out of the ground on Buford Drive near I-85 in Lawrenceville. The stadium will cost $59 million, up from an initial estimate of $40 million.
Yet, at least two citizens (Don Shaw and Lee Baker) attended the hearing who had something to say and were not permitted to voice their opposition.
But anyway, at least one commissioner feels your pain.
Commissioner Mike Beaudreau, who is known for keeping an eye on county spending, said he lost sleep over the decision. He said he even considered plowing over what has been built so far and converting the land to a county park.
But because the county has to have revenues to pay back the bonds, he said the only choice was to move forward and create a stellar ballpark.
“I felt it was the only thing we could do that was fiscally responsible, believe it or not,” he said. “I felt we had no other choice.”
Yeah, Beaudreau is a real pit bull when it comes to combating government waste.
He looks all broken-up, doesn’t he? As for keeping an eye on county spending, he seems to be more concerned about increasing taxes than cutting spending. This is from a March 28 Op-Ed that he wrote.
It is our job as commissioners to listen to input from our constituents and then make informed decisions as to the level of service desired by county citizens. It is clear that our citizens want more than merely the status quo. For the legislature to put us on a path where all local governments cannot even keep up with inflation in terms of service levels is probably unworkable in most, if not all, parts of Georgia. I can tell you for sure that it will hurt Gwinnett County.
While I may have only scratched the surface on some of the policy questions, the real point of my writing to you is to ask that you not do anything that strips away the decision-making capability of school boards, city councils and county commissioners. Do not cap our revenues or our ability to adjust millage rates. Please do not limit assessments to some artificial growth rate. Please do not enact some one-size-fits-all policy without first examining all the facts. Services are unfortunately not free, and we need to be able to respond to what is going on in our local areas.
Give me a break, Mike. You voted for this boondoogle. Don’t try and have it both ways. And please, stop describing yourself as a fiscal conservative. You’re an old-fashioned tax-and-spend liberal, embrace it.
Addendum: I forgot to mention that the Gwinnett Daily Post did not report the fact that the commissioners did not allow any discussion.
The Gwinnett County Commission will vote today to spend another $19 million on its new baseball stadium without debate or public discussion.
At its morning work session today, the commission voted to add the payment to its “consent agenda,” a package of issues voted on with a single vote and no discussion at its afternoon business session. That meeting happens at 2 p.m.
The winner of Sabernomics.com’s name-the-Gwinnett-Braves-mascot contest is General Gimme. J. McCann had the initial suggestion of “Gwinnett’s Gimme Gimme”.
Maybe not a precisely accurate portrayal of everyone involved, but captures the attitude, I think
Bruce modified the concept, drawing from the mascot’s likeness to General Beauregard Lee and McCann’s submission.
Well, playing off it’s noted inspiration, how about General Gimme? Also he seems to have a glint in his eye that looks a bit devilish, so how about putting a bat in his right hand and a taxpayer in the glove to get whacked or perhaps a fistful of money?
It is only appropriate to announce the winner on the day that Gwinnett’s Board of Commissioners meets to approve $19 million in new spending on the stadium. It’s a morning meeting the day after Labor Day, which was announced on Friday. Do you think that is an accident?
Congratulations to J. McCann and Bruce, who will both be receiving copies of The Baseball Economist.
If you want to help choose the official mascot name—though I strongly endorse using General Gimme—you can vote here for Shadow, Pop-Up, or Chopper…lame choices.
Yesterday, we learned that the Gwinnett Braves stadium is expected to cost $19 million more than the initial projection of $40 million. With the $5 million land purchase, the project is on track to total $64 million. Today, Michael Pearson provides some more detail in the AJC.
Here’s what county officials say goes into the increased cost:
> $7.5 million to extend the concourse all the way around the stadium, put a canopy over part of the stadium and upgrade finishes
> $1.5 million to allow for the use of highly treated wastewater to irrigate fields and flush toilets, saving 5 million to 7 million gallons of drinking water a year
> $6.8 million to put the stadium’s storm water detention pond underground, remove unexpected rock, beef up retaining walls to maximize use of the site and increase the size of sewer pipes to deal with a longer-than-expected run to hook up with county facilities
> $1 million to account for increased material costs
> $2.2 million in management fees and other costs that are charged as a percentage of the overall contract
Where will the County get the extra money?
County officials are proposing to pay for the increased costs with $19 million drawn from the county’s reserve fund, said County Administrator Jock Connell.
If the proposal is approved, the county will have contributed $31 million in property tax funds to buy land for the stadium and help pay for construction costs.
That’s more than two-thirds of the original cost of a project that Connell said at the time was expected to “pay for itself from Day One.”
The $31 million doesn’t include taxpayer contributions from a car rental tax and GVCC funds gathered from a hotel tax. And it’s not as though the County has money to spare.
Still, the price bump comes at a time when county officials are trying to cut costs to deal with millions of dollars in unexpected operating costs.
In recent weeks, the county tax commissioner’s office went to a four-day work week to save on energy costs, the county imposed a hiring freeze for non-emergency workers and public safety employees were asked to try to curtail their use of gasoline by handling some routine police calls over the phone, shut cruisers off for at least 30 minutes per shift and fuel firetrucks on the way back from calls instead of making a special trip.
More cost-cutting could be on the way this fall as county leaders work their way through the 2009 budget.
Police and fire protection are asked to cut back while Liberty Media shareholders get a shiny new concourse?
But, county officials remain optimistic.
Commissioner Bert Nasuti, who came up with the idea of attracting a minor-league team to the county in 2006, said the increased cost is unpleasant, but will bear dividends in the end.
“In the long term, it’s going to generate a lot more money for the county than it’s ever going to cost,” he said.
Nasuti is referring to an “economic impact” study that supposedly states that the project will generate $15 million in annual economic development benefits to the county. This is a study that has not been made public (I requested a copy via Nasuti’s website this morning), and I am certain this is because it violates every principle of economic impact analysis: double-counting, unreasonably large multipliers (in my book, anything over 1 is too large, but I expect this one is greater than 2), including spending by locals, etc. Why am I so certain? Because the academic literature on public spending and development has reached a clear consensus that these projects do not improve development. Here is Dennis Coates, President of the North American Association of Sports Economists, on the subject.
Academic researchers have examined the prospective economic impact studies and found a variety of methodological errors in them, all of which raise doubts about the magnitude of the predicted spending and job increases. Other scholars use data from multiple years before and after stadium construction to measure the impact of the stadium. These ex post studies reject stadium subsidies as an effective tool for generating local economic development.
I also contribute a brief comment to the article.
Kennesaw State University sports economist J.C. Bradbury, who has been critical of the county’s handling of the project, said cost increases are almost guaranteed in stadium projects, particularly publicly funded ones.
“Often times in order to seek political support you go out and fudge on the front side of it,” he said.
Here is a recent article in Miller-McCune about Bent Flyvbjerg, who has studied public spending projects around the world. The one constant he finds is the initial cost estimates typically underestimate the true cost by a significant amount.
by collecting data from 20 nations on five continents, Flyvbjerg had produced the first statistically significant analysis to show what Pickrell had argued with case studies: The vast majority of public works projects go drastically over budget and aren’t as well patronized as proponents claim. He also found that modelers didn’t seem to be improving their estimates over time; the scale of overruns remained relatively constant.
Why does this happen?
Few in the field question the existence of faulty cost and need estimates for public works projects. But the experts fight bitterly over the causes for the consistently inaccurate projections and how to address them. Flyvbjerg’s opinions on the subject can be distilled to a single theme: The politicians are lying to us. The conflict between the rationality of hard numbers and the irrationality of public officials permeates the papers he writes on megaprojects….
As Flyvbjerg views it, the economic incentives for large public construction projects are completely out of whack. Local officials predict low costs and big benefits to persuade skeptical citizens and to compete with other local governments seeking federal funds. Flyvbjerg calls the result survival of the unfittest: Instead of approving the best projects, officials end up funding those that look best on paper. And by the time accurate figures rear their ugly head — and megaprojects routinely last longer than a decade, from conception to completion — the officials who launched them are long gone from office.
“You can’t verify that a forecast was accurate unless you build the project,” [Flyvbjerg's dissertation adviser Martin] Wachs says. “If they build it and the purpose of misrepresenting the costs was to get it built, what do they care if, 20 years later, someone shows that the forecast was incorrect?”
When the Braves threaten to end the lease in 15 years, which is their right under the existing contract, don’t be surprised if Nasuti is relaxing on a Lake Lanier boat dock in Hall County.
Though the deceit with which Bert Nasuti and his cronies have acted is not uncommon, it is still unacceptable. Costs are already starting to rise, and we should expect further cost increases. The fact that county officials are coming clean so soon indicates to me that they anticipate further increases. I expect that the project is heading for a total cost of $80+ million, and the $100 million mark is not out of the question.
Addendum: As of 10am today, this doesn’t appear to be a popular decision.
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.
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.
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!”
The always objective Gwinnett Daily Post has joined forces with the Gwinnett Braves to host a naming contest for the team’s new mascot.
Inspired by General Beauregard Lee, the well-known weather forecaster that makes his home at the Yellow River Game Ranch in Lilburn, the fuzzy, burrowing rodent was the first choice for the face of Gwinnett’s own minor league team.
A burrowing rodent from Liliburn could also describe Gwinnett commissioner Bert Nasuti.
“We’re pretty pleased to be able to deliver something that has some local ties,” Gwinnett Braves assistant general manager Toby Wyman said.
You know, because when I think Gwinnett County, I think…groundhog? I was hoping for twin water towers. “Mommy, take my picture with Gwinnett is Great. Oh wait, here comes Success Lives Here!”
Wyman said the Gwinnett community didn’t have an opportunity to name the team, as communities typically do when getting a minor league organization, but naming the mascot may be the next best thing.
They also didn’t have a chance to vote on or even discuss transferring tax dollars to Liberty Media shareholders. But hey, you get to name a groundhog! Let’s call it even.
I’d like to host an alternate naming contest. It has to be a name that describes the actions employed by the Board of Commissioners to get the team. Something like Grafty the Groundhog, but not quite so lame. Please submit your ideas in the comments.
The winner gets a signed copy of The Baseball Economist. Submissions must be received by August 27, and I will announce the winner on September 1 (these dates are the same as the real contest). I am the sole judge of the winner, but I may seek the opinions of friends. I reserve the rights to change contest rules—including suspending the contest—and deny participation to anyone. I don’t foresee a problem, but I’m just saying.
If you want to submit an entry to the official contest (not my contest), follow these instructions.
Contest entries can be submitted online at www.gwinnettdailypost.com or by mail through Aug. 27. Three finalists will be selected by a panel of Atlanta and Gwinnett Braves staff members and announced Sept. 1. An online poll will then be conducted to determine the winning name, and voting will conclude Sept. 5.
And check out the prize.
The winning name, along with the mascot, will be disclosed later in September, and the contest winner will receive a trip for two to the 2009 Triple-A All-Star game in Portland, Ore.
Sweet, a free trip to Powell’s.
I’m beginning to understand why the Gwinnett Braves stadium deal happened.
Here is Commissioner Lorraine Green’s “tax relief” proposal.
Green said the property taxes would be replaced with a 1 percent sales tax – the homestead option sales tax, or HOST. She said she anticipates the sales tax could generate $157 million a year, enough to offer homeowners a 100 percent homestead exemption and eliminate the stormwater fee. Gwinnett County collected $242 million in property tax revenue in the 2008 fiscal year, of which $107 million came from owner-occupied residential property, Green said.
The plan would have to be approved by voters, but a referendum could appear on ballots as early as next spring. Green said she plans to push forward with this plan if elected chairwoman of the Gwinnett County Commission. She’s running against Charles Bannister, the current Commission chairman, who said he had the idea first, and Glenn Pirkle, an electrical contractor for Buford, in the Republican primary on July 15.
If the plan is approved, the sales tax would have to be collected for a year before the property taxes could be rolled back, Green said. The money collected through the sales tax would be used for capital programs – and Green said she wants to build a county-operated rail transit system to relieve traffic congestion.
Here is how this works:
Year 1 — Introduce sales tax.
Year 2 — Eliminate property tax.
Hmmm…so we are replacing one source of tax revenue with another. However, during the transition the county collects revenue from both revenue streams. Ms. Green, that’s a tax increase, coupled with a Lyle Lanley approved monorail.
But, the saddest part is that the incumbent commission chair, Charles Bannister, rather than pointing this out, claims that Green stole the idea from her. Unbelievable.
For those of you who openly complain that I write too much about Gwinnett County, I wrote this post just to piss you off. No, I’m not joking.
These guys are obviously standing in the bullpen.
L–R: Mike “I ♥ taxes” Beaudreau, John “I really miss my old job” Schuerholz, Bert “look at me” Nasuti, Jock “we anticipate the stadium to pay for itself from day one” Connell, Richard “the nepotist” Tucker
The Gwinnett Braves now have a logo.
The county and Braves unveiled the designs on a baseball field at Pinckeyville Park, where County Commissioner Bert Nasuti coaches baseball. Nasuti was instrumental in bringing the team to the county. Eleven- and 12-year-old members of two teams who play at the field donned T-shirts and caps to reveal the designs.
Note that Bert Nasuti always surrounds himself with people who won’t ask tough questions. Hiding behind 12-year-olds is about as cheap a political stunt as you can get
It’s appropriately symbolic. The G represents Gwinnett County, with its mouth open wide. The Tomahawk represents the Braves. It looks like a Tomahawk rammed down Gwinnett County’s collective throat.