Braves seeking publicly funded upgrades to 17-year-old Turner Field

Two years ago, I looked at the gradually sinking average age of baseball stadiums and concluded:

If current trends are going to continue, circa-1990 stadiums like SkyDome/Rogers Centre, New Comiskey Park/U.S. Cellular Field, and even Camden Yards would have to be replaced by the end of this decade. Okay, probably not Camden Yards — though I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Baltimore Orioles ask for “improvements.” But it’s going to be very interesting to see whether teams start demanding new stadiums, and if so how they justify them, as the first wave of “retro” parks start going out of warranty.

It turns out the winner in the “Who’ll be the first MLB team to demand more subsidies for their ’90s-era stadium?” is, not the Orioles or Toronto Blue Jays, but the Atlanta Braves:

According to Mike Plant, Executive Vice President of Business Operations for the Braves, the team is in talks with the City of Atlanta over their lease of Turner Field.

“We’re happy staying here,” explained Plant. “We certainly need to do some renovation work here. When you look at this stadium and compare it to your house and my house, I mean, eventually you need a new roof and windows need to be painted.”

Well, sure you do, and every team needs to spend some money on maintenance and improvements over time—

Plant said funding for the stadium development would come from a variety of sources, including city, state and federal tax incentive programs as well as the Braves organization.

Oh, that kind of window-painting.

No word from Plant on the scope of the proposed work on Turner Field, or how much it all  would cost, but this is clearly the opening salvo of a campaign to let the Braves go back to the start of the line for stadium subsidies, as NFL teams with ’90s stadiums are already doing in droves. (Plant name-checked Falcons‘ new stadium plans in his talk, in fact, and the Braves have even hired the guy who wrote the NFL team’s economic impact report to do the same for them.) The worrying thing here is that there are a lot of baseball stadiums in their tender teenage years — 14 of them opened between 1989 and 2000 — so this could easily end up the start of a rush by other MLB teams to demand publicly funded upgrades to their parks as well. The hope is that at least Atlanta elected officials will hold the line on how much public money is thrown at upgrading a 17-year-old building … though maybe it’s best not to hope for too much.

11 comments on “Braves seeking publicly funded upgrades to 17-year-old Turner Field

  1. I know the Blue Jays want grass, but Rogers Centre kinda serves as the monster truck/supercross/huge concert event centre for Toronto that most American cities have football stadiums for, and with Rogers owning the place lock/stock, they don’t want to mess that up.

  2. “…When you look at this stadium and compare it to your house and my house, I mean, eventually you need a new roof and windows need to be painted.”
    OK, but a homeowner knows they are NOT going to get subsidized for the cost of a new roof or windows for their home by their local city/municipality…so don’t use that asinine logic!

  3. Hey, we’re just lucky that we’re living at a time when communities are flush with cash and the economy can withstand tax increases for this kind of thing.

  4. This makes me really, really glad that the M’s have privately paid for the upgrades to Safeco Field…and that Seattle had the foresight to include that into their lease.

    Atlanta is throwing a lot of money at these teams again, I just don’t understand it.

  5. Can’t say I’m surprised the Braves were the first to ask for further improvements. I was shocked last year when I visited Turner Field at just how bad of shape the place is in. Despite being only 15 years old the concrete making up many of the walkways has already degraded so much that the re-bar below is showing through. The brick facade at least in left field is literally crumbling off the building with sizable chunks of the individual bricks simply being gone. And internally the main concourse while massive and good for flow is devoid of a large number of amenities you’d find in contemporary ballparks like enough permanent concession stands. Walking around Turner Field I was less reminded of similar era parks like AT&T Park or Petco Park than I was the old 1960’s ballparks like the Oakland Coliseum.

    Maybe it’s because it was built as part of the Olympic package or the speed with which it was built but Turner Field felt like it had been built on the cheap and then on top of that was poorly maintained by the team and city of Atlanta. Regardless of the reason, it definitely needs work compared to many other post-Camden parks.

  6. Didn’t the team inherit the Olympic stadium essentially for (part of) the cost of renovating it to make it Turner field?

    If the team didn’t do a good job or the contractors were terrible etc, it really isn’t Atlanta’s problem. It’s the Braves problem. If you don’t invest in your business to make it a desirable place for your fans to go to, it’s no-one else’s fault when they stay away.

    Dan: You make “devoid of amenities” sound like a virulent form of bird flu, or as though the place should be condemned. If the Braves need more permanent concession stands (I’d check their non-opening day average attendance before accepting that as fact), they should build them… or enter into an agreement with a concession company to have them built. Failure to do routine maintenance is not justification for the taxpayer subsidy. In other words, if the taxpayers fix the things the Braves haven’t bothered to, they won’t do routine maintenance for another 15 years.

    Just so I understand this correctly, the average annual major league player payroll is now north of $80m per year (probably a fair bit north of that… I don’t have this year’s numbers yet). Yet no team can possibly afford to amortize $100m of renovations over a 10-15yr term?

    Of course they can. And they should.

  7. What Dan said….How does an argument that my two children make not laughed at/scoffed at or rebuked by a reporter or newspaper? Taxpayers should pay because an owner whines about another owner’s shiny new toy? Really?!?

  8. Eh I think it’s more along the lines of, the taxpayers should pay because the taxpayers own the place and some major things need repair/renovation.

  9. From Judith Grant Long’s book: “In rare cases, the team is responsible for the bulk of the capital improvement expenses, especially when they have negotiated control over all facility operations, such is the case at Atlanta’s MLB Turner Field, Denver’s MLB Coors Field, Houston’s MLB Minute Maid Park.”

    She has capital improvements defined as “repairs over and above those in general maintenance.”

  10. Neil Roberts, even after the bonds are paid off, SafeCo field operators get 5% (although 10% is authorized) in admissions tax into their maintenance fund… about $3.5M a year right now. Their capped contribution to major capital is $5M a year or 5% of ticket sales. I guess the cap is good, although a lease of $700k/yr was probably pretty good.

    Also, there has been some flex on some parking taxes collected from a nearby garage being given back to the mariners.

  11. Dan: Are you familiar with the term “leasehold improvements” used in nearly every commercial lease?

    If I lease my building to a restauranteur, I don’t get the bill when his dishwasher fails, or his glassware needs replacing. If the structure of the building itself is in question, that’s my bill to foot. But so far all I’m hearing is “we need new amenities”. Since those amenities benefit the Braves and their customers, taxpayers should not be paying for them.

    Whenever a leasee requests upgrades, the owner may choose to do the requested renovations or not. The tenant is free to rent another building, or build his own if he feels that the landlord is being unreasonable.

    Maybe that’s what the Braves should do. Or they could move to…. ummmmmm…. Montreal? Boise? or share a stadium with Loria in Miami….