It is rare for baseball teams to move from their home cities, but the most recent major ballpark deal took the Atlanta Braves to a new facility in unincorporated Cobb County and probably “surprised” Atlanta officials, a consultant on Anaheim’s Angel Stadium lease negotiations told the City Council Tuesday night.
However, the deal Cobb County brokered in Georgia — which included $300 million in public investment and a substantial dip into the county general fund — is “unique,” given the tight budget constraints facing communities across the country, according to the consultant, Dan Barrett, principal at Barrett Sports Group LLC.
That information is relevant, because stadium lease negotiations between Anaheim and Angels team owner Arte Moreno had recently stalemated, and Moreno announced in news reports that he was also in talks with Tustin to build a new stadium in that city of 78,000.
Whether Moreno has a credible threat of moving is key to gauging his leverage in the negotiations, which have been controversial from the beginning. Opponents of a proposed lease framework have argued that the provision granting Moreno 155 acres for $1 per year is a massive giveaway of public land to a private billionaire.
Under the framework, Moreno is to develop that land around the stadium as a revenue source to finance up to $150 million in renovations to the 48 year-old facility. However, Moreno is already obligated under the current lease to make the needed repairs.
The Angels would also be permitted to drop “Anaheim” from the team name.
Moves in Major League Baseball are rare, because the league can control where the team locates, Barrett said. In the case of the Angels, the team is restricted to Southern California.
So far, a move to Tustin seems an unlikely scenario. City leaders there have reacted with skepticism and said they wouldn’t support public subsidies of a stadium, leaving Moreno the burden of raising hundreds of millions of dollars to build a new facility.
Yet there are certainly parallels between the Cobb County deal and Anaheim’s current negotiating situation. Turner Stadium in Atlanta needed some $100 million in repairs, but city officials there believed the Braves had nowhere else to go.
When “the city believed the Braves wouldn’t relocate is when the Braves started having discussions with Cobb County — quietly, secretly, out of the press,” Barrett said. “They were able to quietly cut a deal with Cobb County. I’m not telling you this to scare you or for any other reason, just to give you the information so you’re aware of it.”
But Barrett also said that Cobb County wasn’t contending with the types of restrictions that California has in place, such as required voter approvals on raising revenue.
“I think it’s much more challenging to get public funds in California than in the state of Georgia,” Barrett said.
Building a brand new stadium could cost “at least” $600 million to $700 million, Barrett said. For the new stadium in Cobb County, the public put up $300 million while the Braves are contributing $372 million, he said.
Mayor Tom Tait — who has opposed the current framework and said the city should more equally split the land development revenue — asked where the Angels could go. “Anything is possible,” Barrett said.
He specifically identified as possible locations the cities of Irvine and Industry and even a site adjacent to Staples Center in Los Angeles currently slated for a football stadium.
However, Barrett said, the team would have to make a “significant investment” in order to move.
Tait’s position has been that the Angels will avoid that investment because they already can remain at Anaheim’s stadium rent-free.