Cobb County is the new Fremont

The story is familiar. An out-of-town ownership group sees a development opportunity on cheap land and a chance to build a ballpark in tandem. At the same time it moves away from its long-time home to a location with more money. No, I’m not talking about the Braves moving 12 miles to Cobb County. I’m talking about the A’s moving to Fremont.

Conceived in 2006, the Cisco Field/Ballpark Village concept had support from the Mayor and City Council of Fremont. Cisco went to A’s ownership and suggested the deal, which included the ballpark’s naming rights in partial exchange for heavily discounted land it controlled in south Fremont, near what was then the NUMMI plant. After negotiations stalled with landowner ProLogis and several retailers in the area, the A’s looked across the Nimitz to Warm Springs before giving up on Fremont completely.

Some blame the demise of Fremont on NIMBY concerns. While that had something to do with it, the biggest problem was the impact of the recession. As new home starts ground to a halt with the collapse of the real estate market, mega-developments like Pacific Commons failed to pencil out. That project and many others of similar scope sat dormant for several years, or died on the vine.

In 2013, the real estate market is recovering even if the broader economy is still somewhat stalled. In hot markets like the Bay Area and DC we’re back to real estate boom times. Investors from China and India are swooping in to make cash offers on houses sight unseen, and foreign money is coming in to support big projects such as Brooklyn Basin in Oakland.

It’s that backdrop that has allowed the Atlanta Braves to seek out their own mega-development in Cobb County, just in the suburbs outside Atlanta city limits. A more affluent area closer to corporate interests and away from mass transit? What you or I would call white flight, the Braves would call working to remain competitive.

The Braves, owned by DirecTV owner Liberty Media, recently moved a package of TV game broadcasts from local independent station Peachtree TV (WPCH) to Fox Sports South and SportSouth, the sister Fox-run RSNs in Georgia. While that will help boost revenues, it’s not nearly as lucrative as the single-RSN deals that the Mets have and the Phillies are seeking. To help their own revenue streams, Braves ownership are looking at the next avenues, a new ballpark and ancillary development.

Yesterday an article by the New York Times’ Atlanta bureau chief Kim Severson asked a question that seems relevant for the times: what defines urban and suburban areas? While Turner Field (and Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium previously) were in the middle of Atlanta, the location didn’t match what many would consider urban. Far from transit and surrounded by large parking lots, the neighborhood wasn’t vibrant the way we expect urban ballpark surroundings to be. Similarly, the Oakland Coliseum is set in a hundred acres of parking, and while its connectivity to BART is excellent, the neighborhood leaves much to be desired. The Braves are planning a dense, walkable community that should be largely self-contained, though again it’s far from MARTA. For years either new communities or established smaller cities and towns have used redevelopment funds to create the kind of urban environment that could attract new residents – or at least a subset of that urban environment.

There’s no clear definition of a properly urban neighborhood. Oakland has plenty of excellent established neighborhoods, such as Rockridge, Montclair, and Grand Lake. San Jose has Willow Glen, Rose Garden, and Naglee Park. None of those places have 12-15 open acres for a ballpark. Nor do they have a citizenry who won’t fight tooth and nail over parking and traffic concerns. Often developers will work for years to create that neighborhood feel and it doesn’t work out. Witness how Jack London Square developer Ellis Partners has practically thrown in the towel on making JLS an energetic retail district, electing to push for more housing instead. San Jose has an unquestioned success in the form of Santana Row, though it may not have been possible without Valley Fair already there across the street. With Coliseum City (and to an extent, Howard Terminal), Oakland is attempting to create that vibrance where none currently exists. The list of failures is long: Fremont, Arlington, and Coliseum North to name a few. Will Atlanta and Anaheim prove successful and create the blueprint?

And what of the white flight element? Atlanta and the Braves have jointly, proudly displayed their heritage regarding race in baseball. With the Braves poised to move to a decidedly more white, more moneyed location closer to most of the team’s ticket buyers, what will this mean for the Braves’ legacy?

While deflecting criticism over the Braves’ pending move, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed made one of the more magnanimous statements about cities I’ve read in some time:

“We’ve got to make a decision — either we’re going to be a region or we’re not. It bothers me that we have not come far enough as a community that people feel that a team moving 12 miles is a loss to the city of Atlanta.”

Of course, Reid just helped Atlanta give away the farm for the Falcons and their coming new uber-dome. Other motivations were at work to keep the Falcons downtown while allowing the Braves move to Cumberland, such as lobbying from the Georgia World Congress Center. The Braves weren’t allowed to get control over the land around Turner Field, so they looked for greener pastures. Which is how this sort of deal often gets started.

Atlanta’s population is just slightly above 430,000, which makes the city a little larger than Oakland. In California, Atlanta’s size would supplant Oakland as 8th-largest in the state, below Long Beach. Even though Atlanta is arguably the most prominent city in the South (non-Texas), it’s much smaller than other Southern cities such as Louisville and Charlotte. The Atlanta metro has over 5 million residents in area 20% larger than the Bay Area metro. Yet Atlanta remains the historical and cultural hub of the region and of the state, a claim that can only be made by LA and SF in California. Pushing for regional unity is easy when you don’t have to worry about a team changing names. That’s definitely where the comparison with the Bay Area ends.

28 thoughts on “Cobb County is the new Fremont

  1. I think we all know why Fremont “died,” and it has nothing to do with real estate or NIMBYS (hint: it’s Spanish for St. Joseph). Fremont does however remain in the bullpen…just in case. (Alright pjk and Dan, let’s here about sailing ships…)

  2. ML is correct in his assessment of Tony’s post.

  3. Good timing for this piece. I was at the Paramount in Oakland last night, and walked past the spot of the proposed Uptown Ballpark. I took BART up from Fremont and drove past Pacific Commons. Uptown was teeming with people on a Sunday night. Pac Commons was like any other strip mall along a freeway. I still think the A’s dodged a bullet with Pac Commons fell through. This team needs to be in Downtown Oakland or San Jose. They will be a relic in 20 years if they end up building in cheap land far from an urban hub. The sea of parking might be appealing if your team is supported by the entire state/region, but the A’s aren’t strong enough to the center attraction at a mall/complex in some East Bay suburb. They’re gonna have to draw fans in good seasons and bad… and there will be bad bad stretches. What keeps people coming during the bad times is based on the community bonds from actually being embedded in the community.

  4. Oakland Mayor was on CNBC this morning….not in a good light. Moral of the story – Don’t make bets with Goldman Sachs….they have deeper pockets than you.

  5. Rayburn’s Son, thank you for the CNBC/Quan piece. I just read her comments and they did strike me as out of touch with Economic Reality.
    Many people said we shouldn’t repay the loan,” said Oakland Mayor Jean Quan. “Unfortunately if I don’t repay that loan, in a city that’s bonded heavily because we’re growing, and we’re building stadiums, it will be suicide. And it would cost us so much more.”
    The problem is this: People across the Country are sick of complicated schemes (like )Obama Care”), Wall Street, Big Banks, and the Conventional Politicians out there (we saw this here in New York with the Election of Bill De Blasio as Mayor). The next step may be Elizabeth Warren as President (I am very Right Of Center politically (I like Ted Cruz best). But if the choice was Hillary or Warren, even I would choose Warren. Why? Because at least she has the guts to address the real problems going on in the Country (such as choosing Federal & Municipal Debt Service or Federal & Municipal Social Services)). Until the problems are addressed, they cannot be fixed. Warren will address them instead of deferring them like Brown & Quan did with the Coliseum, until it is a laughing stock. Are her solutions correct? Probably not, but Brown, Quan, Hillary, and above all Obama are guaranteed failures. I will choose a 5% chance of success over a 0% chance of success.

  6. Unlike such cities as San Francisco, Chicago, and New York, Atlanta does not have a significant enough of an affluent community living within or near its core. As a result, those Atlanta suburban corporate types that work in the downtown area would be usually found getting into their cars immediately after work to return to their suburban enclaves. In addition, Atlanta has a very limited rail and bus transit system between its city and outlying suburbs. This helps to explain the main reason for the huge traffic congestion in and around downtown Atlanta during peak weekday travel times. Finally, Atlanta never did build up the surrounding area of Turner Field with luxury/high-end housing and hotels, restaurants, bars, theaters, etc. to make the locale actively busy and safe after regular workday hours. All these factors gave Braves management little choice but to seek a move of the team closer to their fan-base in the Atlanta suburbs.

    In contrast, the Diridon Station area of San Jose would have most every factor in its favor to be fully accessible to all Bay Area A’s fans, and would make attending a game at that locale a fun, pleasant, and safe experience.

  7. DB, you just gave me quite a scare. The thought of Elizabeth Warren of the You didn’t build it, govt.helped you.(she is where Obama got that from) as president?? Absolutely frightening!! I’ll take Quan over that.

  8. So what does this mean for A’s and Raiders stadiums? What we already know? That there’s no money for anything like that? I see the quote where Quan says “We’re building stadiums” – does that mean they’re going to give taxpayer $$ to the Raiders?

  9. I think Ms Quan meant Oakland is building the new arena for the W’s in SF. Oakland will contribute some money. Lacob and company should be rejoiced

  10. I was thinking about how MLB still could send a message to the cities about public financing of ballparks by letting the A’s go to San Jose, even though neither city wants to pay for the ballpark. MLB can reassert that in the vast majority of cases, 100% privately financed ballparks are simply not viable – with Frisco and San Jose being the rare exceptions. Oakland, where private financing is not viable, insisted on it anyway and ended up losing its team as a result.

  11. Now that I’ve recovered from being slammed by RM and pjk… 😉
    You mean after all that Quan still has the audacity to talk about building stadiums (plural)? Man! If I were a citizen of Oakland I’d be outraged. It’s now a foregone conclusion that Oakland isn’t happening for the A’s, and (unfortunately) might not even happen for the Raiders.
    So if Diridon can’t happen for the A’s and downtown Oakland isn’t happening, when does it become desirable for Wolff to go “Cobb County” in Southern Alameda County or Tri-Valley? As I’ve said before; downtown preferable, but there’s a chance we might not have a choice…

  12. Tony: It’s hard to take Oakland seriously regarding anything to do with stadiums. It pitched the Victory Court site as viable and then dropped it, and is now pitching Howard Terminal as viable despite the numerous, expensive,deal-killing issues it has. Oakland hasn’t come up with anything viable for the A’s – as in a workable site and workable financing.

  13. OT: Tim Hudson a Giant? Please say it ain’t so…

  14. I was hoping the A’s would drop 2-yr, $25m contract on him. I’m surprised the Giants got him for $23m.

  15. A’s don’t have enough dough to throw at a guy like Hudson. Heck they don’t have enough dough to bake a dozen cookies.

  16. Billy Beane has shown he’ll pay market value for starting pitchers if they’re willing to sign a 1-2 yr deal. I feel Tim Hudson really fits the bill of what the A’s are looking for entering 2014.

  17. Quan is just another liberal who probably got her kicks listening to ” Jefferson Airplane” singing “White Rabbit” and still thinks that everyone else is into ” Magic Mushrooms” or something. No one thinks if the option is becoming Stockton or building Sports Stadiums she will choose Stadiums ( maybe if it was ” Affordable Housing” oops I forgot that was the previous Mayor aka ” Moonbeams”). She should be intellectually honest and say we cannot afford both the A’s and a Raiders
    , and work to keep one. I suggested before giving Davis the Coliseum and Parking Lot in exchange for staying 30 years, building a New Stadium and Mount Davis debt, but that would require common sense. That is sadly lacking however.

  18. I disagree, David. She should smoke more dope.

  19. Pjk, unless Quan is in total denial of reality AND economics, must know that the building Stadiums for all of the Sports Teams (or even two of them), is basically impossible for the City. I think she is trying to run the North Carolina Dean Smith Offense where she sits on the ball during the final five minutes, in order to run out the clock (which in her case, is being reelected). The problem of course, is unlike sending UNC “Players To The Line”, because of the opposition’s need to foul, her mouth (like yesterday) and overall stupidity (like being late for important meetings), is fouling what should be her primary interest( the City), not just the sports teams. Overall, she basically makes the “Obama Care” Computer System look like a “Model of Efficiency”

  20. @LS. Thanks for sharing. Those green highway express lanes are the bane of my morning commutes. I carpool with my wife person, and the way they’re set up prohibits us from getting onto them. The 880 to 237 express lane zips you past North First St in SJ. So dumb.

  21. Agreed Briggs, express lanes are ok if done right like they do down in SoCal (ie: they have access points for most exits (either access to the main highway or a direct exit from the express lanes) and they’re built new, not created from cannibalizing existing highway lanes). They way they’ve done express lanes in the Bay Area thus far is a complete cluster fuck. And it doesn’t look to be changing any time soon.

    I pity anyone living off Highway 85 in particular. That highway with express lanes will become an absolute nightmare with the mainline highway reduced to only 2 lanes permanently rather than the existing 3. A much smarter approach would be to simply move the carpool/express lane into 85’s expansive center divider. and re-task the current carpool lane as a regular highway lane.

  22. OT: Downtown San Jose has landed the US Patent Office! Will be located at City Hall. Hopefully MLB and the A’s will follow suit…

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