Atlanta Braves move to Cobb County: going upstream – against the flow

By Maria Saporta

At the Atlanta Regional Commission’s State of the Region breakfast on Nov. 1, national urban observer Chris Leinberger declared the end of sprawl in metro Atlanta.

Sixty percent of development in the last four years had gravitated towards walkable urban places — primarily in the City of Atlanta close to transit. Walkable town centers in the suburbs also could expect future investment, Leinberger said as he repeated: “Sprawl is over.”

Tad Leithead, chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission, released the results of a new “Atlanta Speaks” survey of residents from throughout the region.

“A majority of our residents believe in transit,” Leithead said, adding that they also believed in the “redevelopment of older areas in our region.”

While Leithead was standing on stage as a regional leader, the other organization that he chairs — the Cumberland Community Improvement District — was working on a grand plan to lure the Atlanta Braves from the heart of the region to the auto-dependent Cobb County area near the intersection of I-75 and I-285.

That’s Atlanta for you. One step forward. Two steps back.

The Braves will be leaving Turner Field, a perfectly good stadium with existing infrastructure that’s about a mile away from the MARTA rail line, for a 60-acre site that currently is filled with trees — most of which will have to be cut down to make way for a $672 million stadium with parking and a major mixed-use development.

By making the decision to move to Cobb County, the Atlanta Braves are going against the flow of just about every other baseball team in the country. In recent years, baseball teams have been moving closer to the center of metro areas instead of farther out.

A map of the stadium moves of Major League Baseball: 1960 - 2017 (Source: unknown)

A map of Major League Baseball stadium moves: 1960 – 2017 Click to make larger  (Source: Deadspin: Reuben Fischer Baum)

Note to readers: I have included a map showing the moves of baseball teams from 1960 that was emailed to me.  Georgia Tech professor Mike Dobbins referred me to the origin of the graphic.  Here is the link to the source of that map.

Those moves are tracking the national trends of more and more people — especially younger residents — moving back into the city.

As Leinberger said, Atlanta also is experiencing a realignment in its growth patterns — from being the poster child of sprawl to becoming a city that is investing in walkable urban communities.

When a baseball team considers where it should build a new stadium, it should not only think about the present but about the future. Where is the best place long-term for a team to invest in the future?

The Atlanta region — whether it be the Urban Land Institute, the Livable Communities Coalition, the Metro Atlanta Chamber, the Atlanta Regional Commission or the Georgia Regional Transportation Commission — have all stated that we need to link transportation with land use.

In other words, when we develop major employment and activity centers, we need to connect them with adequate transportation systems, including transit.

Despite Cobb’s desire to attract a major attraction like a Braves stadium, it is disturbing to hear the anti-transit rhetoric coming from Cobb County residents — reminiscent of the people who voiced objections to MARTA in 1971.

The last issue is that of regionalism. Regional leaders are good at giving lip service to regionalism — how we can work together as a united region for the greater good.

But how regionally-spirited were the leaders in Cobb County when they engaged in a secret effort to steal the Atlanta Braves from the City of Atlanta and Turner Field?

If we really are regionally-minded, we would ask what location would be best place in the region for the Atlanta Braves to play baseball. Among the issues that would need to be considered should be what is the most prudent fiscal decision?

What is best environmentally sustainable decision? What is the best location that is accessible to people from every part of the region using all modes of transportation?

What location would be the most equitable so that people of all income groups could both attend the games and work at the stadium?

Before the region makes such a major decision, all those questions should be answered — for the good of the whole region — and not just one county — now and in the future.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

21 replies
  1. Reinvent_ED says:

    Maria, I have to disagree with you on this one.   The Braves made a business decision and were very much looking to the future.  Their fan base was on the arc, and they wanted to own their venue.   It is sad to see the Braves go, but lets look at history, shall we?   There was no development done around the TED when it was built for the Olympics.   17 years later, still no development.   I am most impressed with how the Braves kept a lid on these discussions in a world of social media.   While the devil is in the details, what I have seen so far is a GREAT deal for Cobb County, and an opportunity to grow the entire metro Atlanta area, not just the inner city.Report

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  2. PeggyPowellDobbins says:

    Atlanta is blessed, as many Atlantans say, that the Saporta Report arose from the ashes of the AJC. Maria nailed what the New York Times completely missed about Liberty Media and Cobb County real estate speculators moving the Braves. In fact, after reading the NYT piece I was so disgusted that their story read like I wonder who’s public relations man or woman’s apologia for betrayal I said ‘ not only will I not go to another Braves game, I’m not going to trust the NYT again.”Report

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  3. m2t says:

    I don’t think anyone’s ever accused the leadership in Cobb County of being regionally-minded. This reflects poorly on the out-of-state owners of the Braves and one suburban county, not the whole of the Atlanta region.Report

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  4. Reinvent_ED says:

    m2t i respectfully disagree.  I don’t understand why there is so much regional competition and distaste for one another.  I can only surmise that this is residual effects from the segregation era in Atlanta.   This was a BUSINESS DECISION plain and simple.   The Braves’ fan base is NOT in downtown Atlanta.  And its not like the Braves have left Atlanta for goodness sake!  They’re 14 miles away in the suburbs.   I find it absolutely ridiculous that there is such an uproar over this.   It was absolutely appropriate for the Braves to keep the discussions private so there wasn’t a media circus!  And the numbers are very favorable to the county – a deal that comes around once in a lifetime.     Lets get over it and instead, start thinking about how the region will collaborate better in the future, instead of trying to undermine the Braves deal behind the scenes.  Atlanta’s leaders should just remain silent and let this thing play out.  Who knows?  The conservatives in Cobb County may yet find a way to crater this thing.Report

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  5. Guest says:

    Maria, this is what Chris
    Leinberger has specifically stated about the Braves’ move to Cumberland.   Did you take off your journalism hat again, in exchange for your Atlanta cheerleader hat?

    ” The Cobb County site is actually more in line with a new ethos of
    urbanism that rewards smaller, walkable communities, said Chris
    Leinberger, a professor at the George Washington University School of
    Business.
    This year, he http://www.atlantaregional.com/land-use/walkups of new urban development patterns in the Atlanta metro area as part of his work for the Brookings Institution.
    In it, many parts of suburban Atlanta had a more urban feel than the city itself.”
    “The whole concept of city versus suburb is a really obsolete concept,
    and moving the baseball stadium reflects that,” he said.Report

    Reply
  6. John Hutcheson says:

    Reinvent_ED The problem is this — the state nor anyone else would invest in the neighborhoods around the TED. The best investment in those neighborhoods would have been a rail stop that would have spurred local businesses (business that would have served residents of the area) and provided access to jobs outside the area for residents. The only way for the Cobb site to work is for there to be substantial investment BY THE STATE for infrastructure improvements which means that money will be taken out of the city and invested in Cobb County when Cobb County (and most of the rest of the State) has refused to invest in Atlanta. This is clearly not in the interest of the region as a whole. In fact, it probably will not be in the long-term interests of residents of Cobb County.
    John HutchesonReport

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  7. Reinvent_ED says:

    John Hutcheson Reinvent_ED John, I respect and appreciate your insights here.  Clearly, the Braves took the hit because of the lack of foresight that you eloquently pointed out in your comment.
     It is too soon to tell whether this decision is in the best interests of the region of the whole.    In addition, we still face the stark reality that the braves fan base and ticket holders are NOT downtown.   From a business perspective, this a decision I would have arrived at if I were Mike Plant.   Of course, from the perspective you raise, the only hanging issue is whether a) they will have a transportation plan that satisfies most taxpayers; and b) whether the Tea Party successfully hijacks the vote on the 26th.Report

    Reply
  8. Mark says:

    The Braves “own” the territory that includes Atlanta.  They would have to consent to another team being added to or moving to Atlanta, which they would never do.Report

    Reply
  9. John Hutcheson says:

    Reinvent_ED John Hutcheson 
    The problem, in essence, is who is going to make decisions about infrastructure and land use in the region — the people who live in the region, or interests whose only ‘interest’ in the area is taking as much of the resources out of the area as possible. The point is that the later always has the option of leaving when they’ve milked the cow dry. Those of us who care about community — no matter how we may define community — have other interests at stake — livability, our neighborhoods, our neighbors, etc. By not understanding that region is a community and by, in essence, letting immediate self-interest guide our behavior without recognizing the independence of communities within the region, the public defaults important decisions to interests that care nothing about the community — just the dollars they may have at any given time.
    Looking at it in this fashion, it is apparent that Southern Cobb County will be used in much the same manner as Central Atlanta. Central Atlanta has been a good source of low-wage labor for the hospitality and entertainment industry (including the Braves). Wages are kept even lower if residents do not have alternative sources of employment — so, no transit. South Cobb offers a similar advantage — note the income levels of residents who live just across ‘the river’ — a nice natural barrier. It will probably take (given land-use patterns in Cobb County) about twenty years before people move across the river to be closer to work at the new Cobb County stadium at the surrounding entertainment venues — this will happen slowly, and with a great deal of opposition, but it will happen — Mapleton, Austell, Smyrna — current residents will take advantage of suppressed housing values in upper Cobb and Cherokee as the region continues to try to patch transportation arties with concrete. Northern Cobb will strengthen exclusionary land-use policies that will protect the residential areas where there is currently heavy investment. Eventually, Northern Cobb will insulate itself by forming multiple municipalities and development will push even further northward, beyond Cherokee. Eventually, the temporary transportation patches put in place in 2016-2018 will collapse, the Braves will threaten to move to Cherokee or beyond and the cycle will begin again. The past is prelude. 
    John HutchesonReport

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  10. Reinvent_ED says:

    John Hutcheson Reinvent_ED John, clearly you have some urban planning experience and I appreciate the insights.  My feeling is that this is a thirty year deal.  If the fan base is in the suburbs, then there should be no reason for the Braves to have to relocate again, especially since they will be part-owners of the stadium and not simply a tenant.  As such, they will now have a vested interest in the community that they reside in.  So I think this is all about community, and the city of Atlanta is not losing their team; instead, they should work to collaborate with Cobb County to use this project as a catalyst to foster development in the entire region and not just the inner city.  To you point, it is now incumbent on Lee et al to get this transportation solution right.   I don’t think you’ll see the Braves move again – we haven’t seen the deal but I’m sure the out clauses, if any, will be very costly.  I tend to look at the cup as half full, not half empty.  The Braves know that there is no turning back and I don’t think you’ll see them continue to move.  This has more to do with the fractured relationship with the city of Atlanta than anything.  Some egos have been bruised, as is always the case in these situations.Report

    Reply
  11. PatrickSullivan1 says:

    Reinvent_ED I have a hard time thinking that the fan bases in Detroit, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis all live in their respective downtowns, but all of their new stadiums were built downtown and are thriving venues – but then again, what do I know?
    Also, with the new location in Cobb, the Braves are effectively abandoning their fanbases located in the northeast, east, and southeast areas of the metro region, because who want’s to drive on 285 at 5:00 pm on a weeknight unless you have to?Report

    Reply
  12. Reinvent_ED says:

    PatrickSullivan1 Reinvent_ED just checking – do you own a car?  🙂   Every city has a different legacy and different political structure.  You are talking about very different dynamics in those towns, and unfortunately, no one in the south believes in paying taxes.   This is the deal of the century given how small of an expense the county is on the hook for compared to other recent stadium builds.   I find it very hard to believe that the Braves would use Cobb County as a foil to force the city back to the table – there’s really no time for that.
    I think the transportation issue will get resolved so I disagree with your pessimistic doomsday perspective that its fan base won’t make the trek to the new stadium.   I can see an HOV lane being created or other public transportation solutions.   I’m certain they’ve been thinking about this.Report

    Reply
  13. PeggyPowellDobbins says:

    Points of view would be more reliable if point from which view is delivered were stated. If astronomers report location from which they observe, surely observations about the Braves leaving the City of Atlanta should be preceded with where observer lives and works. And who they work for would also help. I live in downtown Atlanta. I’m retired. Without knowing otherwise, I’m inclined to dismiss cheerleaders for the move as living and working outside Atlanta and being employed by parties hoping to benefit financially from the move. I see the resale value of my downtown condos hurt by the move. Lets have some transparency here guysReport

    Reply
  14. Reinvent_ED says:

    Transparency is totally fine.   I live in Cobb County but I have NO business interest in the move.   I am a former baseball player and former strategist at a major media company, so I understand the business of sports.   And while I am a bit more optimistic than John Hutcheson, I respect his viewpoint greatly because clearly, he has some urban planning experience.   Other than the political differences between the Metro Atlanta area and northern cities, I would certainly like some point of views on how Atlanta’s infrastructure decisions are similar or different than those.  At the end of the day, the only element that is worth debating is whether this move will finally force the Metro Atlanta area to create a transportation solution that works for everyone.   The economics of the deal look really good for Cobb County.Report

    Reply
  15. John Hutcheson says:

    Hi:
    Me, been in Atlanta (city) for a long time — construction worker, warehouseman, truck driver, football player (professional for 2 days), professor (Urban Politics — which, to a large degree, is land use planning, Urban Policy, organizational behavior, and research methodologist), now have my own consulting firm — only national and international clients. My only real investment in Atlanta (other than my home) has been in the form of human capital.  
    I think it is a blow to the development of Central Atlanta for the Braves (Cobb County Crackers) to move from Central Atlanta. I also agree that in the long run, the area may be better used for residential development. My concern is for the people who live and work there now — no one seems to be thinking about their interests. My concern is that more residential investment in that are will continue to leave these folks out of the equation — in other words they will be displaced by gentrification without any way to re-capture jobs without adequate public transportation. So, these are the folks that appear to be assuming all the risk in this deal.
    As I said before — the best alternative here was to provide adequate public transit which could have increased the residential quality of the environment as well as contributed to the accessibility of jobs. Alternatively, if the ‘Club’ (read corporation) moves to Cobb, best possible result would be that the traffic situation in the area will make public transit a more desirable alternative so that the residents of Cobb County demand cooperation with MARTA that then will broaden the scope of the true ‘regional’ economy increasing the accessibility of Cobb County to the city and visa versa. This would, in the long run, be a win for Cobb, and a somewhat less gain for Atlanta and the Region as a whole.
    Unfortunately, I think this is a very unlikely outcome. My reading of the politics of the State and Cobb County is that a true effort to improve regional transportation and regional access is extremely unlikely. What is more likely is continuing pain for those who live South of the capital, little, if any progress toward a regional transportation system accessible to all and demographic trending that mirrors the past — re-segregation both racially and socio-economically — the ‘fall line’ will just move slowly North — or, another way of putting it is that the river will become the new Ponce De Leon. Ever wonder why Boulevard become Monroe and Briarcliff become Moreland at Ponce De Leon?
    John HutchesonReport

    Reply

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