Turner Field marked for death, and other Braves move updates

Speaking of the Atlanta Braves moving to suburban Cobb County, it finally seems to have dropped out of the top of the headlines, if only for the reason that there’s only so much you can say about a deal where nobody’s talking about how it would actually work. There are still a few people working odd corners of the story, though (including me), so let’s get to it:

  • Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has announced plans to demolish Turner Field in 2017 once the Braves have moved out, to make way for what the Atlanta Journal Constitution calls “a new large-scale development.” Of something. But whatever it is, you’ll love it, just you see.
  • Officials in Cobb County say getting the Braves will be just awesome, because even though they’ll still be the Atlanta Braves and will play just outside the Atlanta city limits and everyone will arrive by car and then drive back out again because Cobb County doesn’t believe in public transit, “this makes Cobb’s marketability so much stronger, and it helps us become more than a suburban community,” according to Brooks Mathis of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce.
  • The AJC’s Greg Bluestein and Jim Galloway report that (no named source, but presumably coming from someone with the Braves) “at one of their meetings this spring, we’re told, [Atlanta city COO Hans] Utz looked at a frustrated [Braves VP] Plant and said, ‘It’s not as if you can move anywhere.’ … That encounter, we’re told, is what set Plant’s competitive juices flowing and prompted the outreach to Cobb County.” If true, it seems in retrospect to have been a hasty challenge by Utz, but really, the guy deserves props for trying to use what leverage he had — nobody in the world could have anticipated that Cobb would drop a gift stadium on the Braves like this.
  • Forbes’ Michael Ozanian points out that if the Braves are putting up $200 million toward a stadium and they sell naming rights for $10 million a year over 20 years, they’ll get the stadium for free, if you can use 20 years of $10 million payments to pay off $200 million in expense now, which you can’t. But hey, cool headline.
  • And finally, I take to the pages of Sports on Earth to look at whether the Braves’ move is likely to launch a renewed wave of subsidy demands by other teams with stadiums approaching drinking age, like the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Baltimore Orioles, and Colorado Rockies. My conclusion, for those who can’t be bothered to click through: Probably not, since the Braves’ situation is kind of special, but you’d have to be crazy to think that other teams aren’t going to use “Hey, we could move to the suburbs, too, don’t tempt us!” as a stick with which to shake down their current homes for some renovation money.

I’d write more, but I have to go on Brian Kenny’s radio show right now to talk more about this. Maybe a bit later.


33 comments on “Turner Field marked for death, and other Braves move updates

  1. It’s opaque to compare Turner Field with the Colorado, Cleveland or Baltimore stadiums. The latter three are in hot areas for restaurants and night life (revived from the dead because stadiums were built, but I shouldn’t mention that because some people don’t like hearing that stadiums stimulate economic activity). The Braves (and, really, the White Sox also) have a stadium in an area that is still junk.

  2. Ben, that’s absolutely untrue in the case of those three cities. Baltimore and Cleveland have virtually no development right around the stadiums, and the development that’s taken place a mile or so away is unrelated to the sports teams. As for Denver’s LoDo, I’ve seen charts of construction starts there over time, and it’s a sharply slanting upward line *until* Coors Field opened, after which things quickly leveled off. The Rockies took advantage of a rapidly growing district to site their stadium in, not the other way around.

  3. As a Coloradan, I can say that LoDo was well on its way before Coors Field came about, but I wouldn’t say it’s “leveled off” since Coors Field opened either. New developments still pop up in that area of town periodically and it’s more developed than it was ~15 years ago. I would struggle to say that LoDo was the ‘catalyst,’ however.

    Notably, there’s a massive upswing in construction near Coors Field at the moment, but that’s more likely due to the extensive redevelopment of Union Station, a park developing next to Union Station, and a pedestrian bridge connecting Union Station and an area called ‘The Highlands,’ which is Denver’s current boom area.

  4. Neil,

    I recommend that you attend a game in Cleveland and Baltimore again. There are plenty of food and nightlife options within close walking distance of the stadium. There were none in Atlanta when I went in 2006.

    As for LoDo, I believe that it was already improving before the ballpark. I believe you are also being willfully ignorant if you think the ballpark has nothing to do with making and keeping that area a hot place to go out at night.

  5. I’ve been to Baltimore recently, and there are the same handful of sports bars that there were when Camden Yards first opened in the ’90s. If you walk over to the Inner Harbor, there’s tons of stuff, but the Inner Harbor was all developed in the 1980s.

    Ben, if you have some evidence that even one city has seen significant development as a result of a new stadium, I’d genuinely love to see it. Because I’ve been looking for almost 20 years and coming up empty.

  6. I agree with your final assertion Neil. Both the current situation, specifics of Turner Field, and the historical pattern of the Braves franchise all point to this being a one off move. It’s a move against the grain, where most teams are going downtown the Braves are moving even further away than they already were. Turner Field was probably one of the most poorly located of all the Camden era parks (being placed in a poor area that no other revitalization was occurring in) and as a result it also had limited transit access. Turner Field was built to be a ballpark from the beginning, but it was somewhat uniquely compromised compared to its peers due to its genesis as a much larger Olympic venue. And now as historically the Braves are being offered another massive public handout, out of the blue, that most teams won’t be offered, particularly so soon after a big public outlay for the same teams less than 2 decades ago. Indeed as you’re seeing in Anaheim, Chicago and LA and saw recently in Boston, KC, and Chicago… other teams seem to see the sense and value in renovating their existing venues when they’re largely already good homes (just like the average home owner. But there’s always an outlier who likes to jump around, that’s the Braves).

    And I said historically above because this will now be the 4th straight stadium the Braves franchise has moved into in the last 60 years that will be paid for by the public or someone else (the last 3 in Milwaukee and Atlanta all being 100% paid for by someone other than the Braves). In fact they’re now the first franchise to get 4 stadiums built either to lure or specifically for them either entirely or majority by someone else.

    That said I’m sure Neil is right and a few teams will parlay even the threat of moving to the burbs (realistic or no), into new scoreboards, luxury suite renovations, new pipes, etc…

  7. So now, we need to fund ballparks so that they can be in areas where the potential for existing malls and restaurants is higher? Weren’t we told that during that last “batch” of new stadiums that they needed to be built in areas that would attract new malls and restaurants?

  8. We were, and I think that’s why you’re seeing the Braves move.

    They were told by the Olympic committee they’d be getting in on those new malls and restaurants like so many of their peers were in places like San Francisco, San Diego, etc… Instead the area around Turner Field is the same lower class neighborhood it always was even back to the days of Fulton County Stadium. No new district ever built up around Turner Field. Which fits with the entire experience when I’ve been there. Going to Turner Field to me feels more like going to the Oakland Coliseum than it does going to other post Camden Parks in places like San Diego, San Francisco or Seattle. It’s in a somewhat run down neighborhood with nothing to do around it, poor freeway access, and a massive parking lot.

  9. I hate the poor neighborhood excuse when you have the NY Yankees located in one of the poverty areas in the country. Detroit plays in a bankrupt city and Cleveland is an area where 90% of public school students live on poverty

  10. “We were, and I think that’s why you’re seeing the Braves move.”

    But unless they have some economic interest in the surrounding neighborhood, I don’t see where it matters much to a team if their stadium is in the middle of the world’s biggest parking lot or the middle of the world’s biggest mall. Proximity to your fan base matters a bit. Safety concerns matter somewhat (and that’s not a problem if your parking lots are big enough). Otherwise, the team doesn’t care about what’s next door. Going to a sports event isn’t an impulse buy, they’re not getting walk-ins by folks who were in the neighborhood for some other reason.

    The fact that development never occurred around Turner Field is irrelevant to the Braves. But give them a brand new stadium at a discount price that’s also nearer to their fans – of course they take the deal.

  11. Dan,

    It’s impressive that folks were told Turner field would be like the parks in SF and SD, since those parks opened 4 and 8 years after Turner Field, respectively.

    While I can’t speak to Petco very well, I can tell you why there are restaurants around AT&T Park in SF – because it’s not surrounded by miles of parking lots. So, restaurants and bars were able to open up right across the street. Don’t expect this new location to be any better in terms of opening up a great new entertainment area, because it’s going to be surrounded by just as much (if not more) parking than Turner Field. You mention Oakland, and the reason it never has any chance to develop businesses around it is that it’s stadiums surrounded by miles of parking hemmed in by freeways – so no room to put anything people could walk to. Which sounds a lot like the physical site of this new Cobb County stadium.

  12. JB, I used SF and SD as examples of parks that did eventually join/help develop an area around them that is a vibrant business district. I could just have easily used Coors Field.

    And I agree, I don’t see how Cobb is going to solve the problems that the Braves claim they have with Turner beyond being closer to rich white people and of course being offered the $450 million. That is unless they somehow find a way to build both the ballpark and a ballpark village around it. But we’ve seen that proposed before in Saint Louis and Fremont, CA by the A’s. Neither has been a huge success in replicating what grew somewhat more organically around parks in San Francisco and San Diego.

  13. Dan – I don’t think SF “did” anything. There was monster demand for real estate in SF at that time and given how small the city is geographically, there just aren’t that many places where growth/upzoning can occur.

  14. I can certainly speak to Petco, being in and around the area numerous times before, during and after the construction. The gas lamp district was already there, and already had plenty of new construction going on before, during and after the park, and seemed equally busy regardless of if there was a game or not, particularly on weekends.

    I can’t say the park added or subtracted anything from the area, at best it may have increased some business on Mon-Thurs nights, during the season when there was home games. Maybe.

  15. BFR – as a SF resident for 20+ years, I would say AT&T Park did contribute to the gentrification of the area and helped clean up what was one of the dicier areas of town.

    But, would agree that there is no “baseball magic” that especially cleaned up the area. The ballpark probably had just a slightly better impact on the area than putting a major company HQ or university center there (and why not, AT&T Park is the HQ of a major entertainment company – the San Francisco Giants). But since the team payed for the park themselves and did commit to moving in while the area was still pretty crappy, let’s give them their due credit for helping to speed the clean up of the area.

    Sorry, I know it’s off topic to Atlanta, but as a Giants fan I want to keep pointing out that a team can 1) afford to pay for their own stadium and 2) not be financially crippled by that, and thus win. And to say it’s not sports or stadiums I’m against, or even necessarily tax subsidies – but stupidity that says these subsidies are a great investment without ever looking at the data.

  16. Deeleon,
    Yes the Gaslamp was there, but it also wasn’t quite the gentrified area it is now. It was definitely more of a place to go to a titty bar than it was to go with the family to get dinner and see a movie or take in a ballgame. Petco did help that, particularly with spreading some of the development into the east village. Gaslamp it was probably take it or leave it, but the east village development definitely was helped by the ballpark and the additionally $300 million in development the team owners were required by contract to provide in the East Village area.

  17. JB – it’s not provable one way or another whether or not AT&T sped anything up, my sense is probably not but I don’t really have anything much to back it up. Granted, I never lived in SF and spent 10 years living on the peninsula, so have less familiarity with the day to day in that part of the city. I do suspect that the park helped the viability of CalTrain somewhat, so there’s that.

  18. Here is a supposed City of Atlanta timeline of negotiations with hints at the Braves’ demands. If this is true, what they asked for was ridiculous.


  19. BFR – I can tell you it definitely sped up the residential real estate market in the area. Would have eventually happened, but with the ballpark there you had 1) young guys who like baseball and thought it would be cool to live near the stadium and 2) people that wouldn’t have even looked at the area until it was well established get exposed to the area because of the ballpark and saw that it was probably a good investment.

    And, again, if you look at the research, it’s not that these stadiums have zero impact on the areas, it’s that they’re not close to worth what communities normally pay for them. Except the Giants paid for the stadium themselves

  20. There seems to have been a pretty solid trend in stadium construction: build a stadium in an emerging neighborhood, and the neighborhood continues to get better. Build a stadium in a poor or declining neighborhood, and the neighborhood doesn’t improve. Which would seem to suggest that–as a public policy project–stadiums have little or no effect on neighborhood improvement, removing a lot of the justification for the cost.

    For every Coors Field, where a lot of hard work by year-round businessmen gets ignored for a baseball stadium open less than 25% of the year, there are 20 examples where not much happened. I’m always amazed in DC–the hottest real estate market in the country–the area around the stadium has developed much more slowly than other areas. As said here–empty space is a detractor of development in today’s urban environment.

  21. Its always good for an area if someone comes in and plops down $500,000 grand improving a property. Much less $500,000,000. That much is beyond debate. Certainly if you go to an improving areas, buy one of the remaining distressed properties, and pave it over with a brand new thing it will help the area significantly. But the brand new thing could have been a school, or a hospital, or a shopping center, or a government office and you would have the same effect more or less.

    Yes a stadium brings in more people than those things, much MUCH MUCH less regularly.

    If my city gave me $200,000 to spruce up my property so I could host bigger and better parties there my neighbors and the neighboring businesses would definitely see a lot of benefit. The problem is they would see nowhere near $200,000 in benefit. Most of the benefits would accrue to me. And that is exactly what happens with stadiums.

    Minnesota givings the Vikings $800 million, they get some portion of that back in benefits, and most of the value is captured by the team. it is a great racket if you can get it. I wish I could get the legislature to give me a couple hundred grand to host bigger parties. Its a thousand times less money and I have a thousand times fewer guests, so I thing the math works out. I even have more than 8 a year!

  22. “Mr. Speaker, I come here today on behalf of a truly worthy cause. Among the patriotic citizens of our state is a man who stands out, a man who has devoted his spare time to enriching the lives of others, a man who deserves the respect and support of all of us. I’m happy to be the sponsor of the ‘QCIC Entertainment District Investment Act of 2013’. Let us not be distracted by the naysayers who will claim that Mr C isn’t worthy of our financial support. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend several of the culturally significant events held at his facility – and I can tell you they’re worth every damn penny. I wouldn’t want to live in state that isn’t willing to become a partner in Mr C’s endeavours. I move that the QEDIA be approved by unanimous consent.”

  23. I’m tired of hearing the stadium is in a bad neighborhood, no room for development, no parking. Didn’t hear complaints before lease renewal time came around. I’m sure if the Braves owned Turner Field, there would be ways to get around these issues. I think it would be easier for them to say, our lease is running out in Atlanta and they would not throw money at us. We found a county that will so we are moving there. Please stop telling us it is for the fans. If it were for the fans, ticket prices would be so the average person can bring the family to a game more than once a year or two. You know the White Sox are getting ready to say, there is nothing more that can be done to their park to enhance the fan experience, we need a new one. It has been said before. If ball parks are such great investments, how come team owners do finance and build them?. Why are they always holding their hands out or threatening if they do get what they want. If the Braves were paying for this out of their own pocket, they can do what they want. They are not so please stop with this is for the fans. The goal as in any business is to make money. Having someone else pay for your facility or most of it, leaves more profit in your pocket.

  24. Phil: If the stadia themselves were the catalysts for development, we wouldn’t be having this discussion about Turner. In more than 15 years, by the public funding proponent’s own admission, next to nothing has happened around Turner field.

    So the logical answer is to build another new stadium somewhere else and hope that this stimulates development in that area? It’s utterly illogical, unless you happen to be the billionaire owner/corporation that pockets nearly a half billion in public funds, of course.

  25. @ Dan and Deelron

    I was born in San Diego in the sixties and have lived here for most of the last almost 50 years. Downtown was still a dump long after the Gas Lamp and Horton Plaza redevelopment. I spent some of my punk rock teens down there in the mid 80’s at California Theater and Carpenters hall, the arcade on Broadway and other places I shouldn’t have been. South of Broadway was peep shows, prostitutes, and junkies. Gas Lamp district was just between 4th and 6th street and there was no reason to go east of 6th before Petco Park unless you had a crappy car and wanted free parking for the convention center..

    Petco park completely changed downtown’s east village, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was a horrible deal for San Diego, we not only spent $100s millions on building the stadium we gave John Morres the development rights for the surrounding propoerty, worth $100s of millions.

  26. David:

    Excellent points. One thing that is often lost in discussions around giving billionaires $200-400M in tax dollars to do something, and having that something show some modest net positive, is this:

    What could the city/county itself have done with that money and what would have been the benefits accrued?

    Even if the best possible use of the money does turn out to have been a sports stadium (which would be a rare case), the city could at least be earning rent and getting the tax benefit itself, not kicking back property taxes to the private corporation to cover construction costs and, sometimes, using tax dollars to cover operating costs for the franchise.

  27. Thanks to the sacrifices of our veterans. They obviously fought for our Freedom to let County Commissioners secretly negotiate $400 million giveaways to multi-billion corporations (I.e. Liberty Media), without bringing it up for anything so messy as a referendum vote. Yay for Corporatism, errr Democracy!

  28. @ David

    While I certainly don’t disagree about much of SD being a hell hole (particularly in before the mid to late 90s), from my perspective the area was well on it’s way to what it is now long before the ballpark was put in, and probably would have reached a similar status without a stadium. I actually think GDub hit it on the nose a couple posts back.

  29. John, I forgot the word not. I meant to write: If ball parks are such great investments, how come team owners do NOT finance and build them?. My point was, the owners know spending money on a facility is not good business which is why they reach out to the different municipalities.

  30. @ Deelron

    The development before Petco Park was all west of 6th (6th to 4th is a national historic district) or north of Broadway. Nothing was going on in East Village, it would still be a warehouse district.

  31. @David Benz – That would be true of the East Village if it was the “only” place in San Diego that developed that rapidly. But due to rising property values, rising gas prices, and rising commute times, pretty much everything in the city near employment that could be bought cheap and converted to something more expensive was bought and developed. It just wasn’t the East Village.

    It’s actually pretty safe to assume that the East Village would of rapidly developed like Hillcrest, UTC, Liberty Station and North Park. All of which went through a similar boom without the addition of a stadium. (Or even Point Loma/Loma Portal which has also been rapidly developing even though the existing SD Sport Arena is more of drag then an aid).