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Atlanta Braves' New Stadium Is a Disaster for Taxpayers and Fans

It's an economic albatross, built because of an ethically questionable deal, and fans can't even get to the stadium without playing a human version of Frogger.

Curtis Compton/TNS/NewscomCurtis Compton/TNS/NewscomThe Atlanta Braves christened Major League Baseball's newest stadium on Friday night with a 5-2 victory over the San Diego Padres in front of some 41,000 fans, most of whom seemed to actually make it into the stadium despite the nightmarish traffic jams and lack of parking at Sun Trust Field.

More on that in a moment.

First, let's keep in mind that none of this would be possible without Cobb County, Georgia, taxpayers kicking in more than $400 million. More accurately, none of this would have been possible without one of Cobb County's former top government officials negotiating a secret deal with the Atlanta Braves to have taxpayers pay that amount for a new stadium, and without the rest of the Cobb County commission voting to approve the stadium deal at a supposedly public hearing where members of the public were prevented from voicing their opposition to the secretly crafted deal.

And that's really only the beginning of the story of one of the worst stadium deals in American history.

When the Braves announced plans in 2013 to relocate from downtown Atlanta to the northern suburbs of Cobb County, Georgia (closer to Marietta, Georgia, than to downtown Atlanta), some observers were surprised. After all, baseball teams had been flocking to retro-style downtown ballparks ever since the opening of Camden Yards in Baltimore in 1992. Those downtown stadiums were supposed to be revitalizing portions of inner cities in return for massive public spending on the stadiums themselves.

The Braves had one of those downtown ballparks. Turner Field began life as the main Olympic stadium for the 1996 Summer Games, and the Braves moved in the following year.

Perhaps the biggest surprise, at least at first, was that the Braves were abandoning a relatively young ballpark. A ballpark that is younger, in fact, than Miley Cyrus, as Victor Metheson, a professor of sports economics at the College of the Holy Cross, points out.

At the time, the Braves said Turner Field was in need of upgrades that would cost as much as $200 million. It was a no-brainer, then, to move into a new facility that would end up costing $650 million—with taxpayers kicking in $450 million. The real reason for the move, later uncovered by the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, was a secret deal negotiated between Cobb County Commissioner Tim Lee and the Braves, which included the promise of $400 million in public cash for a new stadium in the northern suburbs.

Team president John Schuerholz later admitted that the deal had to be in private to avoid a public backlash.

"If it had gotten out, more people would have started taking the position of, 'We don't want that to happen. We want to see how viable this was going to be,'" Schuerholz told Atlanta's NBC affiliate. "We were able to get that all done."

When the deal was made public, there was a backlash—but that wasn't enough to change anything.

Unlike in Arlington, Texas, where voters last year approved a plan to build a replacement for the Texas Rangers' current ballpark (which opened in 1994, making it also younger than Cyrus, who was born in 1992), there was no referendum on the stadium in Cobb County. In fact, opponents of the stadium plan were prevented from speaking at a public meeting before county officials voted 5-0 in favor of the deal.

After the stadium was approved, things only got worse.

To pay for the stadium, Cobb County officials cut the budget for the county's park system. Then, they raised property taxes (and taxes on hotel rooms and rental cars).

The new stadium promised to bring an economic stimulus to the surrounding area, but businesses near SunTrust Park soon found out that they would be shut out of one of the major benefits of having thousands of people descend on the area for 81 home games each season. In 2016, businesses within a mile of the stadium site were told they would be prohibited from selling their parking spaces to fans. As part of the deal signed between the team and the county, The ordinance was requested by the Braves, the Journal-Constitution reported. The team said it was about public safety, because apparently fans' vehicles will only be safe and sound if those fans pay $40 to park in a lot owned by the team.

The team eventually backed down from that position and allowed nearby businesses to offer parking to fans—but only after it became apparent that a pedestrian bridge crossing Interstate 285, connecting the stadium to several nearby parking structures, would not be finished in time for this year's grand opening. Recently, county officials admitted the $3.5 million pedestrian bridge won't be ready until next year, leaving the team with an inadequate parking situation for the entire season.

As bad as the stadium deal has been for taxpayers, there's at least a silver lining. The backroom negotiations, ethics questions, and obvious lack of economic benefit for anyone or anything in Cobb County has laid bare the false claims made by teams, owners, and leagues in favor of new publicly funded stadiums.

"The reason the Braves say they want to move is because that stadium is in such a terrible neighborhood and they say 'we want to go somewhere else where we can develop that econoniy,'" Metheson told me on this week's edition of American Radio Journal. "Well, look, the original Braves stadium has had 20 years to redevelop the neighborhood that it's in, and it has been completely unsuccessful there."

The county commissioner who engineered the whole thing ended up under investigation for ethics violations and was voted out of office in 2016. That doesn't mean that taxpayers get their money back and doesn't fix any of the lingering problems at the Braves' new home, but, hey, at least it's something.

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  • creech||

    I wasn't aware that Atlanta had a pro baseball team? Bunch of poseurs, just like Philadelphia.

  • Domestic Dissident||

    The most ridiculous part: Turner Field was only like 20 years old.

    That's how completely insane stadium mania has gotten in America, 20 years is now considered old.

  • 68W58||

    True-built as the venue for track and field events for the 1996 Olympics and adapted for the Braves.

    I went to those Olympics, figuring it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see such an event. The Olympic committee controlled reservations for every hotel in the state, so I ended up with a room in Toccoa (near the South Carolina state line) but there were hotels advertising rooms available when you got close to the city. Which I guess doesn't have anything to do with the Braves other than the fact that when centralized committees control such processes you get screwed up results.

  • Feminist Killjoy||

    Turner Field was super nice, too. I was last three in 2012 or 2011, but it still looked shiny and new. I'd also been there for the Olympics, but only the special Olympics since I focused on equestrian events and weird stuff like table tennis. I couldn't believe they were moving so soon. No where in ATL is great for traffic, but at least downtown is central and Marta works really well for funneling people downtown. Now that 85 is all crispy, they're even more screwed.

  • Butler T. Reynolds||

    Most of the fans were from north of Atlanta, so the location stank. MARTA was routed away from the original Fulton County Stadium so that the city of Atlanta would not be deprived of parking revenue. So, no, MARTA was not convenient to the stadium.

  • Longtobefree||

    It was for the children; how can you be so heartless?

  • geo1113||

    Let's ask Three Dog Night

  • 2whlrider||

    The team owners say "The new stadium will create jobs." when they ask for public money and the citizens and politicians are paralyzed by the argument. They see the jobs it will create but don't see the jobs that will be lost to fund the new stadium. They don't see the new businesses that won't be created or the existing businesses that will fail because people no longer have the money to buy the things they wanted to buy. Instead that money went to help multi-millionaire and billionaire team owners buy the things they want to buy.

    Broken window fallacy is a bitch when you don't know anything about economics.

  • wareagle||

    They see the jobs it will create but don't see the jobs that will be lost to fund the new stadium.

    I'll be nitpicky - what jobs will the stadium create? It's not even creating concession, parking, and other stadium-related jobs as those existed at The Ted. I lived in Charlotte for a time, too, where the Panthers' stadium is easy walking distance from office buildings and what the city calls uptown. It didn't cause the location or relocation of a single one of those businesses.

  • Ben1234||

    Don't blame the citizens. We didn't get input till the deal was done, and public sentiment was and still is heavily against this deal. The best we could do was get the scumbag out of office, which we did.p

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Were I the mayor of a city (which gods forbid!) and I was approached by some scummy sports franchise owner to build a new stadium (or he'd move), I swear I'd try to eminent domain the damned team. It wouldn't work (I hope), but it would cost less than giving in and cost the franchise owner and the league a lot in bad publicity.

  • Jerryskids||

    I'm surprised Atlanta hasn't sued over the use of the name "Atlanta" for a team that's no longer in the city. Maybe I should get something going in that area. But it's pretty funny reading some of the shit in the AJC about what a fucked-up deal this is for Cobb County - and then you turn the page and there's an article talking about what a great deal Arthur Blank's new stadium for the Falcons is for the city.

  • Nwallins||

    There is a subtext to this move and the secrecy surrounding it:

    Big Baseball wanted to move from midnight black downtown Atlanta to lily white Cobb County

    For this reason alone, the AJC reflexively opposes

  • Stephdumas||

    Looks like I heard a kid shouting "that's racist". ;-)

  • Butler T. Reynolds||

    It's not 1980 anymore. Cobb hasn't been lily white for many many years.

  • Ben1234||

    That's dumb. New York teams play in New Jersey. And even if the stadium deal was crap, they're still our team.

  • ColoradoKook||

    I don't share Eric Boehm's optimism that this fiasco will open the eyes of voters when it comes to terrible stadium deals. People always get star struck about this sort of thing.

    I'm a huge sports fan, but seriously fuck those guys and their handouts.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    As a person who lives in Georgia, most people I know will never go to that stadium. Depriving the whole deal of our money and watching it fail.

  • DailyPlunge||

    I love Reason and I agree that taxpayer funded ball parks are terrible, but there's a lot of mistakes in this article.

    - There are less seats in SunTrust Park than Turner Field. SunTrust Park has more parking spots than Turner Field.
    - The pedestrian bridges were completed in time. That article you cited was from 2015. I'm not surprised you didn't cite a newer article because the Atlanta media has been relentlessly negative. The fact that the bridge and parking options were better than Turner Field never really made the news.
    - Only one commissioner lost a big for reelection. The others were reelected.
    - Polls showed that the taxpayers of Cobb County supported the plan.
    - The prohibited parking thing didn't even get implemented. Why bring it up?
    - Worst stadium deal in history? It's not even the worst in Atlanta. Have you heard about the dome they taxpayers of Atlanta are building the Falcons?

  • jmg09||

    You beat me to it and said it better than I was going to anyway.

  • jmg09||

    At least SunTrust Park keeps us from having to worry about getting shot when we go to a game. Wait, its next to Cumberland Mall.

  • Curt||

    I think I read the same comments on some SunTrust website last week. First, I call shenanigans on the parking spots comment. Pretty sure that's only accurate if you count all of the offsite lots. Practically speaking, you could use the same logic to count every parking space at a MARTA station towards the Turner Field tally. But, I guess that they count for SunTrust because they're getting some of them $$$.

    Overall, the parking options are going to be a train wreck as thousands of randoms drive around through business parks trying to find the official parking.

    Curious about which polls showed the Cobb taxpayers supported it. Probably narrowly tailored questions. I know plenty of people excited about the park, but still pissed about the deal. I'm on that list. I'm extremely pissed because I live right near the stadium and work in Duluth, but that's a whole different topic. I'm getting screwed by the traffic, but shit happens. But, getting screwed by the politicians is unacceptable.

  • DailyPlunge||

    University of Florida's Department of Tourism, Recreation and Sports Management released the first independent scientific poll on Cobb residents' attitude toward the public investment in the stadium. The survey found that 55% of the survey respondents would have supported the stadium in a referendum.

    I'm not sure what to tell you about parking spots. The site has more dedicated parking spots than Turner Field and that's before you factor in the other spots in the surrounding areas.

    Like I said before taxpayer funded stadiums are dumb, but the local press was really more upset the Braves moved from Downtown to Cobb County. That's why we've seen so many negative stories about the Braves new toy than the Falcons half billion dollar boondoggle.

    Parking at Turner Field was a nightmare and there's no way it's ever going to get better. The new spot might be bad as well, but at least there's hope it can be improved over time.

  • Curt||

    Survey conducted in 2014. 385 people responded to 4,000 mailed surveys. I'll take issue with the idea that this is representative.

    The number of official parking spots does include the offsite parking (which is mainly parking at business parks). I'm all for making of use of this outside working hours, but "dedicated" is a stretch. Meanwhile, figures for the two stadiums don't account for unofficial parking lots. Also, Turner Field was readily accessible via MARTA. STP isn't.

    But, yeah... absolutely agree that that a huge portion of the negative coverage was due to some press (and assorted cool hipsters and hipster media like creative loafing) being upset about Braves leaving downtown. They have always made it sound like the Braves moved to Kennesaw instead of just a couple hundred feet OTP. I'm sure they would have absolutely loved it if there was another new stadium downtown.

  • Curt||

    I don't agree with the people getting upset about the team leaving downtown. Hardly the first sports franchise to do that. Much more convenient for me to get to a game and I'll probably go to more games now. But, the impact on my commute will be a nightmare.

    Regardless, the way that the deal got done was inexcusable. That's the part that just makes the taxpayer funding part that much worse.

    But, they got lucky as hell with the location considering the timing of the 85 collapse and the new closure on 20.

  • DailyPlunge||

    Moving the weekday games back to 7:30pm should help with traffic. Most of the traffic comes from the North anyway. That traffic feeding into downtown is much worst that feeding from multiple spots at SunTrust Park.

    Public transportation is an issue, but the MARTA spot at the Ted was less than ideal. I've done it a couple of times. You had to take a bus that wasn't exactly connected to the railway line.

  • Butler T. Reynolds||

    You beat me to it. Also, even though Turner Field was only 20 years old, the Braves had been in that Atlanta location for decades before then.

  • Matte Object||

    Once again, I would like to remind people that Georgia spends over $600m A YEAR on subsidies to Hollywood at a cost of about $130,000 per year per job.

    That's 10-15x as much as even the most excessive (think Nevada Gigafactory) subsidies for manufacturing jobs.

    A one-off payment of $400m for a Stadium? Peanuts. Not to say it's not a waste, but Jesus, people, stay focused on the big wastes.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Tax breaks and cash payouts are two totally different animals.

    Stealing much of the movie business from Hollywood with simple tax breaks is a great way to have people spend more money here in Georgia. Not to mention, Georgia now has a film studio to help make movies.
    Atlanta Film Studio

  • wareagle||

    Once again, I would like to remind people that Georgia spends over $600m A YEAR on subsidies to Hollywood at a cost of about $130,000 per year per job.

    GA provides the film/tv industry, yes, but it's for jobs that would not exist at all otherwise, or for fewer jobs. Sorry, I saw a lot of folks move to the ATL area from NC after the latter dropped its film tax credit.

    Shows like Homeland and others that filmed in North Carolina went to SC or Georgia or Louisiana. And companies have gone outside of Hollywood for a long, long time to save costs.

  • QuadGunner||

    They were able to build a privately funded ballpark in San Francisco, where they want taxpayers to pay for fucking everything. This is nothing more than a way for assholes to line their pockets. Fuck them all.

  • damikesc||

    I've always said that if they were great investments, they wouldn't need the public to fund it.

  • varun2017||

    hi

  • Ellen K||

    The Arlington deal is also a scam more on the order of extortion than anything else. The Rangers made a huge mistake placing their stadium near the Jerrydome. The promised additional development and revenue didn't happen. But the fear that the Rangers would move into Dallas (where many believe they belong) or worse, near Texas Motor Speedway which would give easier access to Denton and Collin counties-two of the fastest growing, and wealthiest counties, was the only reason Arlington voted for this. Tarrant county weighed in heavily since they get sales tax revenue,but that would have been the case with a location near TMS as well. There's a reason Jerry Jones built the Cowboys training center The Star, in Frisco. As the James boys said when asked why they rob banks "because that's where the money is" applies as a solid reason for this. Having bilked Arlington voters twice before, I guess they are easy marks for a third time. Ignoring a money base that will not travel for weeknight games because it means not getting home until after midnight, the Rangers' organization will simply not build the type of fan base they need to sustain a World Series run.

  • Ranter||

    This is horrible shit-sandwich is getting to be made here in the Tampa/St Pete area with the scumbag Rays and their greedy asshole billionaire owners...

    What I want to know is how to get organized and pre-emptive enough to stop them from ripping off the area. Is there not any sort of organized, anti-public stadium group that can help citizens start to shut this shit down?

  • Robbzilla||

    Arlington TX Resident here: I will say that while the stadium IS younger than Miley Cyrus, it's also hotter than Miley in the middle of baseball season. It's an absolutely gorgeous stadium, and we're keeping it. I wish they'd domed the Ballpark. But they didn't, so we get to pay for a new one. :p

    On the plus side, they DID pay off the bond for the ballpark a year early, and lowered the sales tax by the 1/4% they had jacked it up. Hopefully something similar will occur with this one.

  • Butler T. Reynolds||

    Cobb taxpayers got screwed, but I don't blame the Braves for leaving. They had been in that Atlanta location since 1966 and the area around the stadium was always a dump. (Turner Field was built right next door to Fulton County Stadium.)

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