I’ll admit; when I first got the news, I thought “that’s absurd.” The Atlanta Braves announced Monday that they’d be leaving Turner Field to build a new stadium in nearby Cobb County, and my immediate reaction was “that makes no sense.”
Turner Field – home to the Braves since the 1997 season – isn’t old enough a ballpark to become an abandoned relic, I thought. It’s so much of an improvement over the old Fulton County (cookie cutter) Stadium that it’s an incredible waste to let the franchise walk away from a facility with plenty of tread still left on her tires, I said.
But the more I dug into this, and the more I read up, and heck, the more I remembered how I, myself, found plenty to “nitpick” about Turner Field, the more it made sense. And not just for the Braves and their fans, but for the city of Atlanta and the region, too, honestly.
Let’s face it: the Braves will never build a “Camden Yards.” I’m not even certain their new stadium will be anything of a “lasting treasure,” honestly; I mean, how “classic” can ANYthing be if it’s built in the corner between two interstate highways, after all? That’s certainly never going to be confused with “Wrigleyville.” But my point is, Turner Field wasn’t anything close to a “keeper,” either.
It was built for the 1996 Olympic Games, hastily retrofitted for baseball, and in an area of town that had never developed around its predecessor; an area that didn’t develop around it, either. It wasn’t some gem wedged into a city block with quirky dimensions necessitated by its confines. It wasn’t near downtown and lacked any “breathtaking” outfield vista. It was … just a fairly decent baseball stadium. Unspectacular, but very adequate. It was, frankly, too big, came with very little “charm” or interesting dynamics to it, and had started to become over-run with corporate logos and statues that didn’t even bother blending in with the ballpark’s aesthetics – such as they blandly were.
The Braves apparently spent a few years complaining about The Ted’s shortcomings (who knew?) and kept pointing out issues I noticed with the park all along. Where’s the MARTA light rail stop at the stadium? Why did anyone think a baseball team not in New York or Los Angeles needed 50,000 seats? And where’s the “neighborhood ambiance” that was supposed to crop up around the park?
The light rail never came; the cavernous upper deck was never trimmed down (a la U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago) and those parking lots around Turner Field weren’t improving any property values in that area of town.
Whereas at first I alarmingly questioned this move, now I get it. The Braves and neighboring Cobb County have an arrangement to build a new baseball stadium near the I-75/I-285 interchange, with 60 acres of land around the park for the Braves themselves to develop. Tens of thousands of pre-and-post-game patrons will now have retail and food & beverage options around the park. The Braves become an entire neighborhood’s “landlord,” and Cobb County gets some sweet tax revenues.
In their statement, press release and on their “new stadium website,” the Braves even alluded to mass transit: a veritable MUST for this endeavor to succeed. While the Braves deftly pointed out, via a red-dotted map, where most of their attendees lived in the north metro, what they truly NEEDED to address was bettering accessibility. Sure, most metro Atlantans have a car, but most metro Atlantans abhor traffic, too. And after a hard day’s work, you’d be hard-pressed to find more than five or six thousand families, on a weeknight, who cared to get back in their cars and deal with more gridlock to get to the stadium, pay to park, walk to the stadium, and enjoy the game – especially with high definition television plugged into almost every game, in those families’ living rooms.
So while there’s nothing concrete ABOUT light rail to this new stadium, the Braves having wanted it at The Ted before, and mentioning it in their statements now, tells you they know there’s untapped potential within the Atlanta area for more fans to attend games.
The Braves get to rake in extra revenue from their new, wholly-owned “neighborhood,” just when they need it most, too. Their television contract, compared to many of the newer TV deals, is pitiful. In the “arms race,” they were losing ground for salary dollars. This is a game-changer.
For the city of Atlanta, as mayor Kaseem Reed put it, they’ll be off the hook for a $150 to $200 million improvement bill and get to, instead, pivot towards developing a prime piece of real estate along I-75/85 and I-20. And with a $900 million backlog of infrastructure improvements, $150-200 million can go a long way.
So now we all wait – with baited breath – to see what KIND of stadium the Braves have designed for them. We know it’ll be an improvement over Fulton County Stadium and Turner Field, and before anyone get dour at the prospects of there being no booming downtown skyline to see from the park, let me remind you of this: one of the better ballparks in the league right now is Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies. It’s a terrific baseball park, loaded with character and quirks, and it’s nowhere near downtown Philadelphia.
Will we get a Fenway Park? No, but then who’s gotten one since, anyhow? Will it be anything like AT&T Park in San Francisco? No, and mostly because Atlanta lacks such scenic areas to take advantage of. Can the Braves get a new home more like Citizens Bank Park? Absolutely. And if Braves’ fans pack it the way Phillies fans did that gem, the Braves will be major players for the next 10-15 seasons – before a better TV contract is possible.