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An Insult

November 12, 2013

To pretend that the Braves move is anything other than about who could offer up the most money would be foolish.  But for the Braves to mask it behind a series of transportation issues is insulting.  For Mayor Reed to proclaim that it would have cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars is an insult.  It boiled down to several things, but it ultimately was money and image.  The Braves have a terrible TV contract, a must have for any baseball team these days.  See the Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, L.A. Dodgers, and the California of Anaheim of Los Angeles Angels (or whatever the hell they call themselves now).  The Braves made the terrible choice of Peachtree TV.  So to compensate the Braves need parking revenue.  Something they don’t get right now.  The Braves were jealous of the Falcons getting their new stadium, and Cobb County decided that the Braves were more important than dealing with their education woes, because they could stick it to us city folk.  Regardless, the real issues are not the ones presented by any side. 

My issue with this is the “silver linings” that so many parties are proclaiming.  Some may say I am being a curmudgeon on this, I say it’s pragmatic.  Mayor Reed and others think that now this area will get the development that it deserves.  Hard to believe.  You see most people don’t want to live right next to an interstate.  That is why we look at the backside of Dillards at Atlantic Station.  That is why Peachtree and I-85 have an abandoned condo building serving as a billboard.  That is why Spring St. is still an underutilized corridor of fast food restaurants, parking facilities, and the occasional adult club despite being a mere 2 blocks from the most vibrant street in this city.  The draw to redevelop the area around the stadium was dependent on just that, the stadium.  Someone dropped the ball during that process and frankly I don’t care who it was, they dropped the ball.  The Braves leaving the area doesn’t necessarily help the selling point of a bunch of surface lots and abandoned buildings.  Neither does its lack of transit access.  Neither does the 12-14 lanes of interstate that zoom by.  So to pretend that the Braves move suddenly “frees up” this land is insulting. 

To say that the city couldn’t afford to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars to keep them is yet again another insult.  Regardless the city of Atlanta will be spending it.  It will be spent in lost revenue.  It will be spent in the 300,000 regional tourists (only 200,000 short of the Falcons full season attendance) that will no longer be staying in Downtown and Midtown hotels for games.  It will be spent in maintaining the stadium after the Braves leave unless we want it to look like this.  And it will be spent in enticing developers to do something with the land.  Whether that be the removal (I won’t say demolition because there is no way this city, so proud of its Olympic accomplishment, will allow the Ted to meet the fate of a wrecking ball) or relocation, the city will shell out millions upon millions of dollars.  They will spend millions to find a way to preserve Hank Aaron’s momentous accomplishment.  And they will spend millions of dollars to spruce up the area to be developed, whether it be through screening it from the interstate or providing transit access.  This will cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars regardless.  Only now we don’t get the benefit of taxing their revenue.

I am also not a hopeless romantic thinking that the Braves were what kept the surrounding neighborhood afloat in the first place.  They were not well incorporated and the minimal development did nothing to tie them into the community.  But that blame could be put on a lot of people.  What I do know is that the Braves weren’t the primary problem associated with the struggles of the surrounding communities, and their absence will not significantly change things.  Sure they created a traffic logjam for a few hours on game day, but the asthma problem in that the community, that articles such as this one try to elude to are not because of baseball.  They are because of the proximity to a massive interstate.  They are due to one of the highest concentrations of industrial use in the city proper and the consequences of having the world’s busiest airport not far away.  They persist because we cannot come together regionally to solve transportation issues so the only option they have is cars.  The Braves have as much responsibility to that community as the city does, and as we do every time we go to the ballots and only consider our own motives. Saying the Braves are the only one’s not upholding their civic responsibility is foolish and short sighted.  Even if the area is redeveloped, to assume that anything but gentrification would occur would be ignoring reality.  That site will not be used to improve the housing stock of those that need it most.  It will not be used to house the city’s homeless.  It will not work to improve the conditions of Peoplestown.  It will be a massive real estate speculation deal that will propped up by city funds.

The Braves did a good job of supporting their argument by mapping their ticket sales from 2012.  But I would be interested in seeing the shift from say 2000.  You see Fulton County has seen a population growth three times that of Cobb between 2010 and 2012.  It has grown faster than Gwinnett, DeKalb, and Cherokee counties.  It is also growing faster than Dallas County (Texas), Harris (Houston), King (Seattle), Denver (Colorado), and Mecklenburg (Charlotte),  signifying a tremendous shift in moving back towards the center.  While ticket sales may be strongest north of the city, how long will that last?  Wayne Gretzky use to say that he skated to where the puck was going, not where it was at.  Unfortunately I think the Braves missed that opportunity.  This will also mark the first stadium in 30 years to move away from the city center, and one of the furthest away overall, going entirely against the trend that has been so successful for baseball in recent decades.  Of the teams with the highest attendance of 2013, their proximity to downtown was as such:

 1. Dodgers: 1.5 miles

2. Cardinals: .3 miles

3. Giants: 1.65 miles

4. Yankees: 5.5 miles

5. Rangers: 1.5 miles

6. Tigers: .4 miles

7. Angels: 3.25 miles

8. Phillies:  3.25 miles

9. Red Sox: 2 miles

10. Rockies: .5 miles    

The Braves will be nearly 12 miles away.  Given the trend of the other successful teams, this will likely not produce the attendance results they would be hoping for.  The Cardinals once considered a move across the river to East St. Louis and given their current attendance they are probably glad they didn’t, particularly when their demographic and physical urban composition is not all that different from Atlanta’s.  Nearly every one of these stadiums has a few other elements in common.  Efficient transit connections, little direct interstate access, and a limited amount of parking.  In fact the teams with the lowest attendance: Tampa Bay, Miami, Cleveland, Houston, and Kansas City have some of the worst transit access and most abundant parking of all major league stadiums.

This is a shame, and an embarrassment.  Not only damaging to the civic pride of the city but speaks volumes to our region’s priorities.  While as a city we struggle with traffic and many other aspects we cannot challenge the requirement to use tourism dollars to an unnecessary football stadium.  With a county laying off teachers and a teacher/student ratio far exceeding that of other school districts they can find nearly $500 million to support the Braves relocation.  Instead we choose to be cannibals.  We use regional bargaining chips like the Braves and Falcons to dig ourselves into holes so that we can spite a neighboring county.  We pursue development projects like Atlantic Station and what may be the former Braves site, while simultaneously encouraging the languishing poverty in other areas, and the incomplete patchwork that is our central city, creating another automobile dependent community.  We do all of this so we have something new and shiny to point to.   As a region we are given the opportunity to vote for or against one of the most pressing issues: transportation, but we are not given the opportunity to voice our opinion on over $700 million in public money (which will surely balloon to more) to be devoted to unnecessary sports stadiums. Along with who knows how many other hundreds of millions of dollars that will be spent for Cobb to make the necessary transportation improvements and Fulton and Atlanta to try and repair the black eye that will now be the Georgia Braves/Cobb County Commuters, or however else they may re-brand themselves.  The Braves, the City of Atlanta, and Cobb County deserve every bit of criticism they are ultimately receiving. 

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