Cobb County gave Braves monopoly on all game-day parking, says it’s a “safety” thing

Just when you think the Atlanta Braves stadium deal can’t get any worse — it goes and gets worse! The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Dan Klepal dug up the latest gift that Cobb County has awarded the Braves owners: a ban on any private entities within a half-mile of the new taxpayer-funded stadium renting out their parking spaces to Braves fans.

Commissioners in February quietly passed an ordinance that outlaws property owners within a half-mile of the stadium from charging for parking during games and other special events at the stadium…

“This irks the (heck) out of me,” said [local office building owner Fred] Beloin, who has previously tangled with the county over zoning around the stadium, and was unaware of the ordinance until told about it an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter. “They say they’re increasing my property value and then they do everything in their power to make sure I get no benefit out of it.”

The ordinance closes off potential revenue for dozens of businesses that own more than 10,000 private spaces — many of which could compete with the team for parking revenue.

The way that it works: The new ordinance says that you need an “accessory special event parking license” to rent out your parking spots during Braves games, and such a license “will not be issued if primary access to the accessory special event parking area is from public right-of‐way within the limited access zone.” (I.e., if you drive there on a public road, i.e., everywhere within half a mile of the stadium.) The Braves themselves are exempt from needing a license, as a “major tourist attraction.”

Klepal’s article says that “the restriction could mean fewer parking options on game days, making it less convenient or more expensive to go to a stadium with no direct MARTA access,” but it’s unlikely that this is the Braves owners’ intent. Rather, it puts private parking lot owners over a barrel as the Braves try to negotiate to rent their spaces for use during games — as I told Klepal for his story, “One good way to get leverage is to make the thing you’re negotiating for worthless to the other party. And that’s precisely what Cobb County’s ordinance tries to do.”

As for the county and team officials that put this Braves parking monopoly in place, they say they never meant to discriminate against private parking lot owners, who they said can file appeals to the county if they want to rent out their own spaces on game days. Rather, they said, it’s about … safety. Safety?

“We know that when fans come to a Braves game, no matter where they park, they associate their experience with the Braves,” Plant said. “Our concerns focused mainly on two areas — safety of the fans and the free flow of vehicles through the areas around the ballpark.

“With that in mind, we requested that the county create an ordinance covering an area around the ballpark to protect fans who are attending the game and ensure that they receive the same safety, security and convenience provided in the lots we control.”

Run that by me again? Denying private parking lot owners the right to let Braves fans park there helps provide fans with “safety, security and convenience” because, I guess, quality control? Except that there’s nothing in the ordinance talking about the quality of the parking — the only way this ensures fan safety is if you assume the Braves can provide a safer experience than local business owners, which would be dubious even if we weren’t talking about a team that regularly has people fall to their deaths at games.

FoS reader Andrew Ross points out that this may be the lamest excuse for a self-interested policy since the Philadelphia Eagles tried to ban outside food at their stadium on the grounds that someone might smuggle in an exploding hoagie. It may well end the same way that controversy did, with team officials sheepishly repealing their attempt at a revenue grab amid the public uproar, but expect a few months of lawsuits first, at the least.

30 comments on “Cobb County gave Braves monopoly on all game-day parking, says it’s a “safety” thing

    • That would never fly in Chicago. The mayor hates the Ricketts’ dad, and will do nothing to help his kids.

  1. This is another quagmire in the Cobb Braves debacle, but I can see why it happened. Private parking lots around Turner Field, affectionately called “gypsy lots,” have been an absolute mess. The gypsy lots got a reputation for being unregulated and unsafe. I’m not sure how common it is, but people occasionally get their cars robbed and sometimes lot owners turn a blind eye towards drugs and alcohol (not a super serious drug problem, but more like teenagers drinking beer and smoking joints.) The problem with Turner Field’s gypsy lots is that they retarded development in the surrounding area because they created negative externalities (since nobody wants to live next to one) and their cash flow encouraged owners not to build anything. Why bother selling or fixing an abandoned house when the front lawn is cash cow on gameday? The Braves and Cobb are trying to create a mixed use development around the stadium, so their concern is that unregulated parking lots nearby could cause the same problems at Turner Field. It’s not exactly the same, considering it’s mostly commercial property near the new stadium, but similar enough that they want to avoid the problem.

    • Yea, the gypsy lots are what hindered development around Turner Field and not the bad neighborhood itself. This is pretty clearly county assisted negotiating help for the Braves.

      • There are lots of problems around Turner Field. AFCRA and the Braves turf war over development rights, the stadium being surrounded by poor neighborhoods from the start, white flight, crime, interstate construction, AFRCRA’s status as a hybrid city-county organization, messy property rights in the neighborhoods, and the gypsy lots all combined to create a toxic soup around the Ted. I probably have forgotten some other contributing factors as well. My point is that gypsy lots haven’t helped the situation, so I can understand why Cobb is trying to prevent them from developing. This is a clear case of Cobb County favoring the Braves’ development over existing businesses, but over the long term Cobb wants to see the Cumberland-Galleria, that is something like the 3rd or 4th largest employment center in the metro area, become a higher density commercial and residential node. Removing the revenue stream from unregulated parking lots removes the incentive for property owners to leave their land underdeveloped. Since the Braves are moving soon, parcels are now coming up for sale around Turner Field because the gypsy lot gravy train is coming to an end. It sucks for current property owners who were expecting easy money and it is favoritism to the Braves, but this could turn to be beneficial to the county over the long term.

      • I have lived here for 2 years and I do not understand the “bad neighbourhood” reputation. There are newer suburbs in North Atlanta, but newer does not necessarily equate to better; more expensive, yes, but better?

    • Cobb County is one of the wealthiest areas in the country. The ‘gypsy lot’ issue is a non-factor there.

      • Correction: Cobb County is one of the wealthiest areas in the State of Georgia. It’s barely in the top 100. In fact, Fayette and Forsyth counties has more wealth, with Forsyth being the wealthiest in the state.

  2. Ordinance says they cant rent the spaces, would be a great f u to the Braves if they let people park there for free.

    • Great idea! Hopefully the ordinance doesn’t ban shuttle bus service at $6/head?

  3. This is an ordinance that cries out for a restraint of trade suit.
    Unless there is a caveat in the development agreement that these business owners signed specifically preventing them from charging for parking (which would be very unusual, as would any language which foresaw a sports team moving to Cobb County that might “require” same…), it seems very unlikely to me that this ordinance will survive any sort of challenge in court.

    BTW, whatever happened to the Land of the Free AND the home of the Brave(s)? It seems you can’t be both in Cobb County….

    • Bingo,

      This is a blatant infringement on commerce. In fact, it’s borderline totalitarian. The audacity of a government agency purposely restricting one’s ability to generate income on property s/he owns in, while at the same time, severely limiting choice for the paying customer, reeks of cronyism.

      The hilarity of these outlandish stadium deals throughout the country is the worst ones are headed by so-called conservatives (Pacers, Bucks, Rangers, etc), which should eliminate any criticism from that side about the ills of social welfare practices typically used by liberals.

      I know the gold-standard for stadium corporate welfare is the Pacer deal. It has finally been surpassed by this debacle. Atlanta should forces the Raves to change their name to the Cobb Raves. You’re not in Atlanta anymore.

  4. The Cobb County commissioners seem to be able to do whatever they want, whenever they want, for whatever reasons they choose. Quite the little fiefdom they’ve created. The only two questions left to be answered are, how many of them will be re-elected, and how many people will go to Braves games. It’d be cool if the answer to both questions was “None”.

    • I was in Atlanta a few weeks ago and drove out to Cobb County Ballpark (SunTrust isn’t paying me.) I don’t see how the Braves could possibly have enough parking without the help of some of the businesses nearby for parking. There is no evidence of any overpass being built to the other side of the highway. I don’t know how long it takes to build an overpass, but they have to be running out of time to do that.

      All these businesses should collaborate together and tell the Braves to F off. Of course, after opening day, they probably won’t need much parking because that team is horrible.

  5. There use to be gypsy lots surrounding Wrigley Field but not sure if many left. Never a problem , so maybe the neighborhood was the problem and this is just Cobb politicians working for the Braves to screw over the taxpayers MORE !

    • I think the gentrification (hate that word, but it’s what they call it…) of Lakeview has taken care of most of those, Steven. It’s not all that long ago (30 years or so) that the skyline around Wrigley had few buildings more than 3-4 stories high. That has changed.

  6. To be fair, Lee’s Hoagies of Abington made a pretty good exploding hoagie back in the day.

    • But those weren’t considered a stadium hazard then because they had a time-delay fuse, right? ;-)

  7. Oh, what a tangled web is woven when the local government gets into the sports entertainment industry instead of doing its real job like infrastructure. How much lead is in the local water? It is not really just the federal government that sometimes gets too big for its britches.

    • Bingo! Please help me get rid of Braves’ bat boy Tim Lee.
      Fred Beloin

  8. I have doubts that this ordinance would hold up to legal scrutiny, but the traffic concerns are real. Without this cudgel, I doubt that local office owners would be willing to hire enough staff to manage traffic and pedestrian flow before and after games.

  9. How is an enforcer of this regulation supposed to distinguish between actual visitors to these businesses/homes and people parking there for games? “Why yes, these cars are here for my [whatever] store” or “yes, they are all visiting me I’m very popular”.

    • They accounted for that in the legislation. It says: “In the prosecution of an offense under this division, it is presumed that … all vehicles parked on property during a special event have been charged a fee for parking during the special event.”

  10. I seem to remember that Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder got local authorities outside DC to ban people from walking on public streets from private parking lots to Fed-Ex Field. And I believe safety was the excuse Snyder used, although it was obvious he just wanted fans to use lots he controlled.

    • The Washington City Paper (a longtime Snyder nemesis) published a nice write-up of Snyder’s parking shenanigans back in 2009.
      In a nutshell, Snyder’s minions found out that people were parking in the mall across the street, so he (somehow) got the county to make crossing the street illegal, for safety, as you note. That ban was tossed when a lawyer found himself blocked by the cops, and he subsequently filed a class-action lawsuit.

  11. Commission Chair Tim Lee rushed an ordinance through at the behest of former Olympian and Braves real estate development director Mike Plant. Of course, the Braves are creating the traffic problem, but the ” public safety” ordinance exempts the Braves from its coverage! Make no mistake, Tim Lee is dedicated to the proposition that Cobb should have government by the Braves and for the Braves. It is amazing how a supposed conservative loves to regulate every else for the benefit of the Braves. As Stanford Economist Roger Noll has stated, this is unusual, and thus, in my opinion, needless. Wake up Cobb, it is Independence Day!