Stadium price tag goes up

DULUTH - Gwinnett's minor league baseball stadium's budget is $19 million more than anticipated. Officials are asking commissioners to dip into the county's reserve fund for the extra cash.

The $59 million construction budget, which was determined after bids came in during the last week, included improvements to the stadium's facade, a 36,000-square-footage increase and upgrades to save water and reduce future maintenance costs, said Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau board chairman Richard Tucker.

He said the extra money is needed to produce a "first-class facility" under time constraints to begin the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves' season in April.

"This happens every day in the real estate business," said Tucker, a developer. "You adjust to it and you do it. In this case, they are public funds, so we are even more careful."

Earlier this year, commissioners put up $7 million for construction of the stadium, as well as $5 million for the land on Buford Drive, south of the Mall of Georgia near Rock Springs Road, where construction has already begun. The remainder of the $40 million construction funding has come from a $33 million bond package to be paid back with rent from the Braves, a $1-per-ticket fee, parking fees, a rental car tax and naming rights.

Commissioner Bert Nasuti, a member of the visitors bureau who introduced the stadium idea, said the project remains a good investment for the county, as it is expected to bring in between $5 million and $20 million in economic development each year.

"In the long-term, it's going to bring more money to Gwinnett County than it's ever going to cost," he said.

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.

From the reserve, the county chipped in $25 million for the $90 million Arena at Gwinnett Center project more than five years ago.

"When you stop all economic development projects when there is a downturn, you're going to punish yourself over the long term," he said. "If you don't do certain things now, in 10 years, you'll have to do things that are much more expensive."