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Jun 29, 11:45 AM EDT

Georgia high court says bonds for Braves stadium are valid


ATLANTA (AP) -- The Georgia Supreme Court has upheld the authorization of up to $397 million in bonds to build a new baseball stadium for the Braves in Cobb County.

Three Cobb County residents opposed the authorization and appealed a Cobb County Superior Court ruling approving the bond issuance to the high court.

In the unanimous opinion published Monday, Justice David Nahmias wrote that an intergovernmental contract used to authorize the bonds is valid. He also wrote that the issuance of the bonds does not violate the state's Constitution or revenue bond laws and that the process used to validate the bonds was not improper.

The Braves announced in November 2013 that they would be leaving Turner Field near downtown Atlanta for a new stadium to be built in Cobb County near the interchange of interstates 285 and 75. The team plans to begin playing at the stadium, called SunTrust Park, for the 2017 season.

The three Cobb residents who challenged the bonds - Larry Savage, Richard Pellegrino and attorney T. Tucker Hobgood - argued the lower court judge's ruling validating the bonds was incorrect. They argued that the agreement between the county and the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority is not a valid intergovernmental agreement; that the project improperly uses public tax revenue for a private facility; and that the bonds can't be approved without a referendum.

Monday's opinion says it's clear that those who sought the bonds "relied on the prior decisions of this Court interpreting Georgia's Constitution and revenue bond law when structuring the financing for the new Braves stadium project." While "aspects of the deal structure at issue may push the law about as far as it can go, it does not cross the line into illegality," the opinion says.

The opinion also says it does not discount the concerns that the three Cobb residents raised "about the wisdom of the stadium project and the commitments Cobb County has made to entice the Braves to move there." But it says those concerns have to do with public policy controlled by elected officials.

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