New Braves Stadium Winners and Losers

Major League Baseball’s most infamous disappointment, the Atlanta Braves, have, not surprisingly, dropped the ball once again. Following the Braves loss in the 2013 playoffs to a solid LA Dodgers lineup, the perennial October letdown-of-a-team has made a decision that has fractured its fan base and raised national concern over a trend in sports that may be more detrimental to team’s hosting economies than beneficial. After only 20 years of playing in Turner Field, the Atlanta Braves have announced they will relocate to a new 42,000-seat, open-air stadium in Cobb County after failing to reach an agreement with the city of Atlanta regarding the more than $200 million in repairs necessary to keep the Ted up-to-date. The Cobb County Commission will vote in 8 days whether or not to approve the more than $300 million contribution to the stadium, about 45% of the total $672 million cost, and it seems the vote will pass without a problem. Since it appears the stadium is essentially a guaranteed go-ahead, let’s take a look at the winners and losers of the deal.

Winners:

The Atlanta Braves:

The move may not come to a surprise to those who have followed the situation closely. The Braves’ list of complaints about Turner Field, including a lack of public transportation access and limited parking around the stadium, have fallen on deaf ears for years. Additionally, the new stadium, located just North of I-285, rests much closer to the majority of Braves ticket purchasers, as evident in this map provided by the Braves. From the organizations viewpoint, the deal with Cobb Country is a win. For only a little more than they would spend renovating Turner Field, the team gets a brand new field in a much safer and more developed part of town that’s closer to those who will buy tickets.

The City of Atlanta:

After agreeing to cover 20% of the $1.2 billion Falcons stadium in Downtown Atlanta through the use of the hotel-motel tax, the City of Atlanta had little to offer the Braves. Mayor Kasim Reed has already taken quite a bit of heat for agreeing to subsidize the construction of the Falcons stadium and couldn’t afford to dish out any more money for stadiums, especially with the Mayoral elections approaching at the end of this year. The decision seemed questionable at first, but it turns out the relocation of the Braves and the demolition of Turner Field following their vacancy will lead to Atlanta saving money. No longer will the city have to bear the cost of hiring traffic cops, increasing MARTA bus connections for games, maintaining the area around the stadium (such as trash cleanup, road maintenance), etc. Additionally, the area cleared once the Ted is taken down will usher in an expansive middle-class development that will collect property taxes the city needs, and may lead to more development in surrounding neighborhoods.

Losers:

Cobb County:

Supporters of the Braves stadium in Cobb County cite a variety of reasons the new development will benefit the county, including the 5,000+ jobs and $235 million payroll created by the actual construction, the thousands of jobs the completed stadium will offer, and the tax revenue from the “walkable urban space” complex that will be developed around the stadium. But it has been known among urban developers for quite some time that sports stadiums are not that beneficial to their host cities/counties.  A little over 100 new sports facilities have opened in the past 20 years across the country and nearly all of them have received public funding. But the promised benefits of job creation and economic stimulation by those stadiums generally fall flat. Construction jobs and stadium staffing are often seasonal, temporary or contracted from out-of-state, thus not providing any benefit. Economic conditions around stadiums also don’t see much improvement (take a look at the neighborhoods around Turner Field for evidence). In fact, businesses, especially restaurants, near the new Cobb County stadium will experience a rise in property taxes (part of the plan proposed by Cobb County) even though they probably won’t see a rise in profit as most ticket purchasers will eat inside the stadium or at one of the newly opened restaurants within the complex developed by the Braves around the stadium, which is meant to attract consumers year round.

But despite a lack of evidence that Cobb County will actually gain revenue from the stadium, the county will contribute quite a lot of money to its construction. On top of the $14 million Cobb will pay upfront to improve transportation, the county will provide $276 million with revenue bonds from a rental car tax, an existing hotel-motel tax, a new, additional motel-hotel tax, and an increase in property taxes within the specially designated Cumberland business district. Another $8 million or more of the total cost will be reallocated from existing property taxes. This would lead one to believe that the county is drawing funds from a surplus, but all of this is being promised during a year when the county has cut 182 teachers from its public school system and added 5 furlough days for the rest.

Lastly, as mentioned before, transportation will become the county’s biggest obstacle. Cobb County currently has no MARTA connections and will refuse, despite an obvious need for it, to ever allow a MARTA station. Cobb politicians have worked to stop public transportation from the inner city for years, including a strong lobbying force to strike down TSPLOST last year, which contained proposals for MARTA’s expansion into the county. The Cobb County Commission has promised to improve transportation within Cobb by widening U.S. 41, adding an interchange at I-75 and Windy Hill, building a trolley line connecting local businesses to the stadium, and building a pedestrian bridge across I-285 connecting the ballpark to Cobb Galleria. But these improvements will have little effect outside of the small region surrounding the park. The I-75 to I-285 connector experiences some of the worst congestion in the city; worse even than the congestion the area around Turner Field experiences now, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation. The new stadium will cause an increase in car traffic since there is little public transportation access, and probably won’t ever be, increasing congestion further and pumping even more pollution into the air.

Braves Fans:

The Atlanta Braves, since they moved to Atlanta from Milwaukee in 1966, have developed a culture heavily drawing from the city itself. Atlanta has for years been a symbol of racial diversity. The black population is the city’s majority, making up 54% of inhabitants, and has contributed greatly to its unique culture. It should come as no surprise that that population has also greatly attributed to Atlanta’s baseball culture. The Atlanta Crackers, the city’s minor league team for the first 60 years of the 20th century, stood up to KKK threats and hosted the MLB’s first black baseball player, Georgia-born Jackie Robinson, while he was with the LA Dodgers. The three games against the Dodgers recorded attendance among the highest in Atlanta sports history, comprised of fans of both colors. Atlanta was also the home of one of the sport’s greatest black players, Hank Aaron, who broke Babe Ruth’s homerun record with his 715th homerun in Atlanta’s now demolished Fulton County Stadium. The event was celebrated by both white and black fans. Now that the Braves are moving to Cobb County, the team is abandoning many of its black fans who reside in the area around Turner Field and do not own cars. The lack of public transportation in Cobb from the inner-city will prevent some of the Braves’ most loyal fans from attending games. And as I have mentioned before, don’t expect the public transportation situation to improve. Cobb County Commission Chairman Joe Dendy said to the AJC just last week, “It is absolutely necessary the solution is all about moving cars in and around Cobb and surrounding counties from our north and east where most Braves fans travel from, and not moving people into Cobb by rail from Atlanta”. The organization has proved that the fans no longer matter, but profit instead, which is why they consciously have made the decision to leave its black and low-income fans from the neighborhoods surrounding the Ted behind, in order to make the wealthy, white, suburbanite fans’ drive a little shorter. Because of this, no Braves fan should support the move. The fan base as we know it has been segmented by the Braves organization itself, and will never again be what has been for decades.

 

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