In the 17 years since Turner Field opened, the Atlanta Braves have shared more than $7 million with three nonprofit groups working in low-income communities near the stadium.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher has been looking at how that money was spent and whether it made a difference to the communities. He asked an expert to review the groups’ tax returns, and the results raise an eyebrow as to where exactly the dollars went.
When the team moves to Cobb County, the nonprofits will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in parking revenues that the team shares each year.
Columbus Ward runs Peoplestown Revitalization, which helped build new homes along Fern Avenue.
“These use to be concrete blocks, duplexes, that were deplorable,” Ward said.
Ward said more new apartments nearby were once drug and crime infested.
Geoffrey Heard runs Summerhill Redevelopment.
“Without the SMP funds, many of the things we’re doing would not have been possible,” Heard said.
SMP is the organization that evaluates projects and distributes the money.
Altogether, $7.1 million has been handed out to the three organizations since the Braves moved to Turner Field.
Heard said his agency provides critical services for a low income neighborhood, like a computer lab for residents.
But Summerhill Redevelopment also produced a scandal. The group’s tax returns document more than $500,000 in unauthorized loans, the largest to Douglas Dean, a former state legislator and former Summerhill director.
“It’s clearly contrary to the internal revenue code rules governing tax exempt organizations,” said Georgia State Law School professor Cass Brewer.
Heard said his record speaks for itself.
“I can guarantee you it won’t happen on my watch,” Heard said.
But Brewer said the tax returns of all three organizations raise other questions as well.
For instance, the 2011 Peoplestown return shows just $76,151 in dollars spent on programs out of nearly $228,895 in total spending, a 67 percent overhead.
“It certainly raises an eyebrow as to where exactly are these dollars going,” Brewer said.
Ward’s group admits the returns are sloppy, but insists it spends the vast majority of its money on the community.
As the money runs dry, what about the areas of all three communities that remain undeveloped, even blighted, within sight of Turner Field?
Ward said he is not anxious to lose the money, but he thinks he could have accomplished his goals without the money from the Braves.