Braves road and bridge projects push public cost past $300m, still no one sure where money will come from

I initially missed this one when it happened last week: The Georgia state transportation department approved $18.9 million in funding for road projects to support Cobb County’s new Atlanta Braves stadium, including money for new message boards to help direct traffic and highway and pedestrian improvements near the stadium. I think we’re still at $276 million in direct public subsidies for the stadium (which you can watch being built via webcam right here, if you want to see what taxpayers are getting for their money, or just like cranes), so adding the cost of upgrading highways so tens of thousands of people can actually get to the middle of nowhere at the same time to watch baseball would bring the total cost to $294.9 million.

And we’re not done yet, because the state refused to pay for that delayed pedestrian and shuttle-bus bridge that is set to leave Braves fans walking along the side of a highway to get to games for at least the stadium’s first season. The bridge itself is projected to cost $9 million (though nobody apparently really thinks it can be built for that amount), plus another $3.5 million is needed to upgrade a parking deck that it would connect to. Right now nobody knows where the money will come from, though the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s James Salzer has some ideas:

Lawmakers routinely approve sales tax breaks for construction projects, from amphitheaters in the northern suburbs to zoo improvements in Atlanta.

Those tax breaks – contained in carefully worded bills with a limited lifespan – are typically sponsored by local lawmakers who want to help out a project in their home county.

Lawmakers have at least twice given sales tax breaks to Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus’ downtown aquarium: once for the original construction and another time for an expansion.

Salzer also notes that the state legislature agreed to kick in $40 million for a Falcons parking garage after it turned out nobody had budgeted for that, so there’s always the chance of this happening here as well. There’s a reason why the average public stadium cost is “more than you were told at the start.”


13 comments on “Braves road and bridge projects push public cost past $300m, still no one sure where money will come from

  1. Characterizing the stadium site as “the middle of nowhere” isn’t exactly fair, and actually dampens one of the (many) legit criticisms of the project.

    The site is located at one of the busiest interstate junctions (75/285) in the city, that is already choked with congestion at the times people want to go to baseball stadiums. The stretch of 75 just north of the site is actually one of the widest paved roads in the world, for the people who enjoy useless trivia.

  2. It’s a major highway intersection, but there isn’t a whole lot there right now, which is why they need to upgrade getting on/off/across the highways.

    If “middle of nowhere” doesn’t do it for you, how about “a place that until recently has been just a stretch of highway to drive past in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the way home”?

  3. Neil,
    So how do these sales tax breaks work? Is the cost of the materials used for construction exempt from sales tax, or is there more to it than that?

  4. Scott: Everything I know is in Salzer’s piece. I know that construction sales tax breaks are common in construction projects, but those wouldn’t amount to much toward a $9m+ bridge, so maybe he has something else in mind? Ask him.

  5. Until today, I hadn’t ever looked at the overhead view of this property. I can’t help but draw parallels to a similar (albiet smaller) location in San Jose. At the Northeast intersection of two major freeways, Hwy 101 and 280, sits the Police Activity League (PAL) stadium complex (football/soccer, baseball and softball). It’s been there for years but access is horrendous (only one way in and out from a residential street in a very dodgy neighborhood) and parking is horrendous. I used to loathe when my kids had events there. Map: https://www.google.com/maps/@37.3435964,-121.8491184,17.5z?hl=en

    Braves fans are in a world of hurt if its anything like that (and then taxpayers to alleviate the fan hurt).

  6. No one sure where money will come from? Huh? Pretty sure it will come from “the taxpayers.” The destination is known, it’s only the route that’s in question.

  7. The ballpark is in an “edge city”, like King of Prussia, Herndon or Sherman Oaks. The location is going to be awesome for baseball.

  8. Which is why there are so many MLB stadiums in King of Prussia, Herndon, and Sherman Oaks.

    There’s actually a good reason why baseball stadiums, as opposed to football, should be placed in or near center cities, and it has nothing to do with views of downtown: Rather, it’s that baseball is played seven days a week. That means that the bulk of games involve traveling there after work during rush hour, and then afterwards getting home, so you want something that’s 1) near where people work (and/or accessible by public transportation) and 2) roughly equidistant from where most fans live.

    The Cobb County stadium doesn’t score well on either count, though I suppose you could argue that it’s no harder to get to the southern and eastern suburbs after a game than it is to get anywhere in Atlanta, which is to say mostly impossible. I don’t think it’ll be a total disaster once they work the highway and bridge issues out, but I do think you’re going to hear people missing the bad old days of parking at Turner Field.

  9. Well, that combined with the Barves picking the one area in Metro Atlanta that isn’t served by MARTA. Wait, is that a bug or a feature?

  10. I am so excited about this new location!!! I can walk from the “Big Chicken,” along 41 down to the game! Maybe they can put in 50 miles or so of bike path so that people can bike along 8 lanes of traffic on each side. I’m feel so exhilarated about this. I guess you refer to how I feel as, “muted exuberance.”

  11. One of the Braves’ chief complaints about Turner Field was the lack of access to MARTA. Which, while a legitimate complaint, is hard to take sincerely coming from them, because Cobb County is not merely not serviced by MARTA, but it’s the one county in the immediate metro area with the most hardline *opposition* to a MARTA expansion line. Even though a hypothetical I-75 northwest line would run directly to the stadium.

    The Falcons stadium is practically next door to a MARTA rail station, and I believe something like 20% of their attendees take the train to games. Turner Field is about a 25 minute walk from the nearest MARTA station, and so MARTA ridership has been something like 7%. But the Cobb County stadium is going to be about EIGHT MILES from the nearest train station. Thus why they need so much parking, because NO ONE will be taking the train.

  12. Ben

    First I’ve heard of King of Prussia called an “edge city” or seemingly described as a great location for a baseball team. Is there a correlation between pro sports and Ikea stores?

    Back in the bad old days when owners paid for their own stadiums, baseball stadiums were almost never downtown because the land is too valuable and expensive–but they were always on transit lines. Somehow this resulted in some of the most beautiful and iconic baseball fields ever made.

    Atlanta/Cobb/Fulton County probably have the lifetime achievement award for lousy planning–so this stadium will be no more stupid nor inaccessible than its two predecessors. I often wonder why anyone bothers going to games at all.

  13. “Back in the bad old days when owners paid for their own stadiums, baseball stadiums were almost never downtown because the land is too valuable and expensive–but they were always on transit lines. Somehow this resulted in some of the most beautiful and iconic baseball fields ever made.”

    In some cities, this was because team owners actually owned streetcar lines. The baseball team was mostly just a loss leader for fares.

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