AFCRA at odds with the Braves over $400,000

Following the acquisition of Turner Field, Georgia State Students worry about the fate of the Blue Lot. Photo by Dayne Francis

The Atlanta Braves’ lease came to a close on Dec. 3, 2016, issues will follow them to their new location at SunTrust Park in Cobb County. The Braves, who were supposed to pay half of the parking revenue, only paid 8 percent over the last six years resulting in a $400,000 parking dispute. But the baseball team is insisting there is a calculation error in their parking revenue.

The alleged agreement between The Braves and The Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority (AFCRA) stated that The Braves would hand over 50 percent of their parking revenue over a six year period. The money was intended to go to the Summerhill, Mechanicsville and Peoplestown (SMP) Community Fund Inc, according to AFCRA.

Back in October 2016, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed spoke on the issue, saying he wanted to see the dispute resolved.

“This is a legitimate dispute. They ought to be able to work it out in a calm way. The amount of money at stake is not a massive amount of money to us,” Reed said, adding, however, that the money meant a lot “to the people of Summerhill.”

The Braves and AFRCA eventually came to an agreement on a $50,000 donation from the baseball team to settle the dispute.


The emails

According to an 11Alive article, documents shared between Keisha Lance Bottoms, Executive Director of AFCRA and Sabrina Jenkins, The Braves Director of Special Events, show that this issue was brought to AFCRA’s attention on Feb. 28. Residents of Turner Field didn’t become aware of this issue until news media reported on it in September.

The Signal reached out to Bottoms, but her office did not respond by press time.

Sherise Brown, Turner Field community resident, said the dispute could have been avoided if there was a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) to overlook what money would go to the neighboring communities and ensure they received the amount.

“We’ve been fighting for inclusiveness and transparency for two years and it seems like there have been a lot of backstory deals in City Hall. We would have known about the $400,000 if there was a community benefits agreement because there would have been an oversight committee, but it took a news source to expose it,” Brown said.

According to the article, Bottoms and Jenkins communicated via email on Feb. 28, 2016 where Bottoms addressed the parking revenue calculations of the Special Events Memorandums, which outline special events that take place at Turner Field when the Braves aren’t playing. Bottoms summarized the expected revenue of 10 events from January- February 2016 and the revenue of two future events.

Following that, on March 16, Mike Plant, the President of Development for the Braves, sent an email to Bottoms to follow up on a meeting that was held in relation to the parking revenue dispute.

“Our staff has spent a substantial amount of hours compiling and reviewing this information which spans a period of 5 years,” Plant said.  Of even greater frustration is your lack of understanding and recognition of the underlying agreements as evidenced by the position you are taking on many of these issues and candidly is wasting valuable resources and time of our staff.”

The Signal reached out to a spokesperson of The Braves, but they declined to comment on the issue.


Settling the dispute

Bottoms proposed to Plant the possibility of the Braves making a legacy donation of some sort from its Foundation, a non-profit that supports community organizations within the Atlanta-metro area.

“Like me, I trust you would rather focus on what is ahead, than behind. This may be an amicable way for us to agree or disagree on the calculations, and settle on a resolution that will ultimately benefit children in the immediate community and beyond,” she said in her email.

Developments from the team’s donations include a Little League baseball field, practice space, batting cages, and other related facilities in Atlanta.

To compensate, Plant agreed to a $50,000 donation that would be paid in four installments of $12,500 over four years, to support a community little league field near Turner Field.

“We very much dispute your connection that the Atlanta Braves owe AFCRFA $400,000 and we are confident in our position on this issue. Nonetheless we too would prefer to resolve this matter amicably and are open to your suggestion of AFCRA and the Braves partnering together for a community little league baseball field,” Plant said.

Although Bottoms said the community expressed interest in having access to recreation space in the area surrounding Turner Field, some community members actually don’t feel this way.

“The community never agreed with the $50,000 donation. When is someone going to ask us ‘what do you think?’”said Brown.

ATL Housing Justice League leader Tim Franzen said they [the Braves] have benefited greatly from this development and the community has not.

“For them to be withholding this money is a crime. This would be easily resolved if the Braves just did the right thing and pay the parking revenue they already committed to do, and then it’s no longer a story,” said Franzen.