I ended my review of Turner Field from two weeks ago saluting the innovative way it was designed and repurposed, plus its status as a permanent baseball-only home.
Turns out that today the Braves announced plans to move to suburban Cobb County, just on the outside of the Perimeter (I-285). Historically, the suburbs north of Atlanta are where most of the fan base is located, so the Braves are strategically making the move to be closer to them. Attendance at Turner Field started with four straight seasons with over 3 million fans. Since then attendance has hovered around 2.5 million. That’s good, but the Braves’ brass think they can do better.
According to the Braves’ new stadium website, Turner field has $150 million in infrastructure improvements that would be needed, yet aren’t enough to enhance the fan experience. Those additional improvements would make the project cost rise above $200 million.
On the other hand, the new stadium would cost $672 million to construct. The 60 acres of land on which the ballpark would sit has been “secured” according to the Braves. Cobb County would invest $450 million in the stadium, while the Braves would put in $200 million at the start and be responsible for cost overruns. The Braves would be the lead developer for the ancillary “ballpark village” adjacent to the stadium.
This announced move follows a string of other regional defections. Three performing arts organizations (Atlanta Ballet, Atlanta Opera, Atlanta Lyric Theatre) have already moved to or are in the process of moving to Cobb County, not far from the Braves’ planned stadium site.
White flight? Follow the money? Yes and yes. As outrageous as this announcement and the Falcons’ plans are to replace fairly new, modern stadia, if they can sucker partner with some municipality to foot the bill for a move, they’re going to do it every time.
Should the Braves be successful in their move, it would mark the first urban-to-suburban franchise move since 1973, when the Royals left temporary home Municipal Stadium for the Harry S. Truman Sports Complex, a similar distance away from Kansas City’s downtown core as the Braves’ site is from downtown Atlanta. The team plans to start play at the new ballpark in 2017. The current lease at Turner Field ends in 2016.