Questions of MARTA and transit get ignored in Cobb-Braves stadium plans

By Maria Saporta

A few days ago, I received an email from a reader asking me about the proposed new Atlanta Braves stadium in Cobb County near the intersection of I-285 and I-75.

“Wonder why rapid transit was considered essential for the Turner Field site but not for the new site?” asked David Feltman, a public transit professional born and raised in the Atlanta area and currently working in Charlotte, N.C. “The new site is one of the most congested intersections in the state.”

I responded to Feltman that I had asked that very question several times of Braves officials, and I had never received a satisfactory response. I was told it was like comparing apples and oranges or some other answers meant to deflect the question.

Feltman responded that he too would change the subject if someone were handing him hundreds of millions of dollars of public money and control of all the surrounding private development.

He went on to say that he had written the Braves organization “about how they had become the laughing stock of the urban planning and transit professions for their move. It is the complete opposite of what should occur to keep a healthy and sustainable center city. A disastrous missed opportunity for the region.”

Feltman hit on the very nerve that has been depressing me ever since the Braves-Cobb announcement was made and subsequent snowballing of votes and decisions that have followed.

Amazingly few metro Atlanta voices have been heard making the case for having major venues next to MARTA and transit, advocating for a strong downtown and central city, urging for fiscal and environmental responsibility and crying out for balanced growth in the region.

The voices who have been advocating for quality growth either are eerily silent or have actually become part of the Braves-Cobb avalanche — often putting on their developer, making money hats rather than their good urban planning hats.

It is always sad for me to hear that Atlanta and one of its revered sports teams has become “the laughing stock” among urban planning professionals.

It only makes me more depressed about this unfortunate turn of events. You see, it makes me realize that I care too much. This is one of those unhappy tales where there are no heroes, where there are no good guys or gals, and where there are no silver linings.

The $672 million Cobb-Braves deal only exposes the weaknesses and failures in our region and of all the parties involved.

The City of Atlanta screwed up by not paying close enough attention to the Braves’ desire to negotiate a new lease in 2013. (Instead of taking a “Let’s make a deal” approach, there was a confrontational atmosphere during the intermittent negotiations).

Apparently no one at the City of Atlanta figured out that the reason the Braves wanted to do a deal three years before their lease was up was to give them enough time to build a new stadium in case negotiations to stay at Turner Field didn’t work out.

The Braves did not treat the City of Atlanta right because team officials never let Mayor Kasim Reed or his team know that they were seriously considering leaving Turner Field. Undoubtedly that would have changed the nature of those negotiations.

I firmly believe that if the Braves had given Atlanta the opportunity to make an offer in light of a possible Cobb deal, the team would have ended up getting virtually all that it had asked for — including operational control of Turner Field and the ability to jointly develop the parking lots around the stadium in a similar way that they are planning to do in Cobb.

And Cobb is not blameless in this story because it conveniently ignored taking its normally prudent approach towards public funding. On the contrary, in lightning speed, it approved $300 million in public funding for a new stadium, leaving open questions about the long-term legal and economic viability of its financing plan.

Lastly, the new deal does virtually nothing to enhance transit in the Atlanta region — one of the Atlanta Braves top demands when it was negotiating with the City of Atlanta.

Imagine if we were using our limited public-private dollars to invest in our transit system to better serve the existing and already-paid-for Turner Field instead of spending $672 million to build a new stadium from scratch that will make an already bad traffic situation worse.

On the Home of the Braves website, there is a section devoted to frequentily asked questions, and the transportation and access section barely mentions transit at all, much less MARTA. Clearly Feltman has a point that is not being addressed.

Maybe it’s the gloomy, rainy weather or maybe it’s my inability to accept the Braves-Cobb deal as being inevitable, but all the developments so far in the Braves’ plan to move to Cobb are weighing heavily on my heart , mind and soul.

People keep asking me, is the Braves move to Cobb really a done deal?

The optimist in me would answer, it can’t be.

But on this cold, rainy December day, I fear that the forces trying to push this deal through are more powerful than the ones who are trying to stop it.

And that makes me sad.

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.

32 replies
  1. M says:

    Wouldn’t it make sense to have a new Braves stadium on the site of the Dome? You could create a sports-themed destination area in downtown (Falcons, Braves, College Football Hall of Fame) and have shared parking between the sports venues, as well as access via Marta. Plus it allows for the Turner Field site to be redeveloped into something that compliments the surrounding community.Report

    Reply
  2. M says:

    Wouldn’t it make much more sense to build a new Braves stadium on the site of the Dome once it’s demolished? That way you could have a sports themed destination area downtown (Falcons, Braves, College Football Hall of Fame) and allows for shared parking between the sports venues, as well as access via Marta. Then you can redevelop the site of Turner Field into something much more complimentary to the surrounding community?Report

    Reply
  3. Guest says:

    Maria, you seriously need to go to the Commerce Club and have several drinks.  That is your MO anyway, right?  Maybe you will run into Wyche. You can sob on his shoulder.Report

    Reply
  4. Burroughston Broch says:

    ” The Braves did not treat the City of Atlanta right because team officials never let Mayor Kasim Reed or his team know that they were seriously considering leaving Turner Field. Undoubtedly that would have changed the nature of those negotiations.”
    Maria, why continue to make excuses for Kasim Reed’s latest faux pas? In negotiations, a skilled negotiator recognizes the other party has other options beside his. 
    Reed and his predecessors began blowing the relationship years ago by ignoring the Braves, and then Reed negotiates in a parsimonious fashion while bending over backwards for everything the Falcons wanted.Report

    Reply
  5. Kevin Woods says:

    This is the best move for the Braves. Sorry it does not mix with city of Atlanta politics, but I want to see more wins on the field. With this move the Braves will average more fans in the seat per game, and will have control over revenue in the park. This will bring better players and more wins to the team. The braves have some of the best business minds in their back office and I applaud them for making a great decision for the team. I want a Championship for this city and this will move us one step closer.Report

    Reply
  6. donthinkso says:

    Agree Maria.  But MARTA failed to assist this effort as well since for years their declining schedules, maintenance and overall experience getting downtown for any event continues to decline.  In a city as diverse as Atlanta, being respectful is one thing but serving your customers’ needs is another that MARTA continues to miss.Report

    Reply
  7. guest says:

    Everyone wants to lay blame at the feet of the Braves organization, but no one wants to look in the mirror.  How is this any different than the myriad of prestigious law firms that vacated Downtown over the last 20 years for Midtown or Buckhead?  If you cannot provide an environment for your tenant to succeed, they will move elsewhere.  The City of Atlanta and Fulton County had 20 years to do something, and they chose not to.  MARTA?  Please.  Less than 10% of those attending Braves games use MARTA.  To the City of Atlanta, Fulton County, and MARTA – stop acting like spoiled, entitled children that didn’t get your way.Report

    Reply
  8. Skeptic says:

    The City of Atlanta needs to quit talking and start producing when it comes to the safety of its citizens and the vibrancy of our downtown streets. People know the crime numbers are being manipulated. Downtown Atlanta is a miserably dangerous place even in broad daylight. Until Mayor Reed and the City Council take brave steps to move homeless shelters completely out of our city, move homeless people off our streets and from under our bridges the tax base of our city will continue to erode and businesses will continue to flee for more attractive submarkets and cities to operate.
    And Maria…speaking of “laughing stocks” what exactly do you think other cities in the region think of ours? Do you think Nashville hasn’t addressed problems in their own downtown? What do you think other cities in the country think of Atlanta? We ARE the next Detroit.
    Central Atlanta Progress has a long history of self-promotion and inflated self-opinions. The simple truth is that our urban communities are suffering because of a huge void in leadership and elected officials who won’t look the problem in the eye because of any number of factors, none of which involve an over-abundance of fiduciary concerns for the stewardship of Atlanta’s economy and a serious concern for the safety of our citizens.
    The Braves move was inevitable. Investigate how MARTA allotted costs of bus service from starting at 5:30 pm until the end of games on 81 dates (plus a handful off pre and post-season games). What would be a fair percentage of operating costs to charge the Braves for those busses for 95 days @ 5 hours/day? Investigate how the Braves were charged for that bus service and you’ll get one example of the many answers that I suggest many in City government won’t want to hear.
    Maria you have been underwriting a failing institution for a long, long time. We all want it to work but time and the lack of guts in City Hall leaves the majority of us with skepticism our city can once again be a safe place to live, work or play. The Braves should leave behind a “Dear John” letter that could say:
    “City of Atlanta I’m leaving you. I’ve fallen in love with anyone else”.
    – See more at: http://saportareport.com/blog/2013/12/questions-of-marta-and-transit-get-ignored-in-cobb-braves-stadium-plans/#sthash.QkWedQky.dpufReport

    Reply
  9. Jimbob1970 says:

    You can run express buses from downtown or midtown up the I-75 HOV lane to Akers Mill Rd. dedicated HOV exit. Turn left at the top of the ramp, make the next right into Galleria and cross the new bridge over 285 right in front of the stadium.  The new bridge will not open in 2017 because of DOT delays/approval, but long term that works. Also it meshes with the long term Cobb DOT plan of having a bus express facility at 75 and 285. 
    Transit was a cover, the Braves have been “promised linkage” to MARTA for years. The Braves have been in the same area for roughly 40 years and you see how far the city has gotten to building the link.  Why would the City magically come through this time?
    The politics of the City of Atlanta ultimately cost them this deal, not Reed per se, it just happened during his watch. But several inept Mayors (Campbell for one) who proceeded Mayor Reed, laid the groundwork. Investigate who owns the parking lots around Turner field. What would a mass transit link do to their parking revenue? The only people to blame are the voters of the City of Atlanta, as is popular speak today, elections have consequences.Report

    Reply
  10. Pam Hughes says:

    Atlanta leaders have always had an ambivalent attitude toward Downtown Atlanta. The former President of Georgia State went a long way to help. He moved to the neighborhood. It is just a damn shame that this happened. I was in DC last week for four days. My husband’s meeting was at a venue in Pentagon City. The metro was outside the hotel. I walked over and in three stops I was in Foggy Bottom. I added $20 to my card and rode the Metro everywhere. I had $8 left on my card when I left on Saturday. It is unfortunate that Marta here has such limited access to the region. Unfortunately, I think there is a racial undertone in all of this. Maria, I too am depressed about this move.Report

    Reply
  11. Phyllis Alesia Perry says:

    It does seem strange to me that neither the baseball team nor the newspaper named after our city are actually in the city anymore. Strange days, indeed. When I heard about the Braves’ move, I knew that would be the end of my attendance. I like baseball well enough, but not enough to follow the team to the nightmare that is the 285-75 quagmire. I know plenty of people who share my sentiments. 
    There is a lot of squaking about what the city or the Braves or MARTA should have done to keep the team center stage. The fact that MARTA doesn’t go to Cobb County is rooted in a history of suburban counties trying to  “escape” from what their citizens at the time (remember, MARTA was created in the 1970s when white flight was in full flower) perceived as a problem with black folks riding said transit. I can catch the train in my neighborhood because DeKalb County taxes support MARTA. Period. It needs money to run, folks. Everything does.
    I’m also reminded of what nightmarish stuff the neighborhood around Turner Field has endured over the decades. The births of the interstate system, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, and then Turner Field (a perfectly good and lovely place, in my opinion. It’s kinda magical to sit there during a night game with the skyline as a backdrop) plowed under vast numbers of homes. Now, perhaps, the neighborhood is being abandoned and disregarded again. Perhaps not, but history teaches that Atlanta’s attempts at “urban renewal” have a patchy success rate. 
    I’m keeping my fingers crossed on this one.Report

    Reply
  12. SpaceyG says:

    Seems there is no greater force, in metro Atlanta at least, than good old fashion “country club deal-making.” For lack of a better term for this particular deal. (It’s not worth calling a “negotiation” as there really never was much of that, as you point out.)
    Regional dreams and aspirations can just… go to hell. It’s business as usual for the 1% and those aspiring to create that I-75 “sports corridor,” who could care absolutely less about a vibrant city center for our capitol city. They too have written downtown off as a lost cause, and honestly, having worked downtown recently I can’t say I really blame them. If I had money in real estate ventures I suppose I’d take it elsewhere too.
    But with an ever-widening gap between the 1%-ers (for lack of a better term, again) and the rest of us means we might as well being doing business as if it was the turn-of-the-century. The 20th one. We’ve gone backwards in time and backwards in progress. Sad indeed.
    Happy holidays? Unless you’re a land owner around the new Cobb County stadium and the I-75 “sports corridor,” well, not so much. But hey, cheer up. Midtown and other intown Atlanta areas seem to be flourishing. Progress happens in Atlanta. Just not downtown. And having spent so much time there, that makes me sad too.Report

    Reply
  13. atlnative says:

    Great column Maria.  I agree completely.  In addition to the lack of transit, the new stadium is slated for property on the high ground above the Chattahoochee, and must have major environmental implications once all of the current greenery is leveled for the development.  Not to mention the costs of moving Windy Ridge Parkway and the Colonial Pipeline.  I’m assuming that the County will be having to pick up those costs too.  I think Cobb taxpayers are in for a very rude awakening…Report

    Reply
  14. jamalA says:

    John we have a local Google+ *community* that I would love for you and saportareport.com/ to join simply called *Atlanta* we share your passion, knowledge,wants and needs and discussion sometimes heated, but the idea is to promote a thriving urban space. We already site Maria’s columns for the insight if not too the wavering.Report

    Reply
  15. jamstan says:

    Great article Maria. New Home of the Braves must have mass transit access not just for Atlantans but for those coming in from out of town to take in a game. The Braves are a major amenity to our city as a tourist attraction and giving the visitors something fun to do while in town on business. The SEC Championship this past weekend had MAJOR usage from the Marta. The cars were full of Missouri and Auburn fans. Without MARTA it would have been a total fiasco. We could not have hosted it otherwise. The Braves really need to rethink this one. It was all done too quickly and this was obviously by design orchestrated by those who have the most to gain. How quickly can you get MARTA into Cobb? Yeah, didn’t think so.Report

    Reply
  16. Resident says:

    @Phyllis Alesia Perry
    If you are looking for a reason why businesses are leaving Downtown you’d be better off asking why businesses can’t thrive in that area. Can they attract customers? Can they recruit talent? Can they assure the safety of their visitors and employees? The Braves were a victim not a cause as they were treated like the villain and all they did was continue to operate in a slum with little or no capital improvement dollars for Turner Field as set forth in their lease. You can ask…”where did those capital improvement dollars go if they didn’t go to the Braves” if you want but that would start a discussion that some people would find too sensitive to address.Report

    Reply
  17. Smarta Marta says:

    donthinksoMARTA has almost always been severely handicapped when compared to other transit systems in the country.  They need revenue to operate the train and bus schedules, and if they don’t have it, cuts and/or fare hikes are the result.  The new CEO is probably one of the best things that is happening to MARTA, with him working to change the image of the transit system and bring more people back onto the bus. (and trains, lol)Report

    Reply
  18. Inman Parker says:

    I dont think the fact that the braves are moving out of downtown is sad in itself, but the way that it happened highlights the biggest problem in this city.  To me, Atlanta as a city is a myth; It is really several smaller cities with their own interest masquerading as a city.  Having several unique, individualistic areas of the city would but fine if they all worked together to create a cohesive environment for all, but instead we have a disconnected mess, both physically and mentally.  The stadium is the perfect example.  Its beyond ridiculous that in this age of urban renewal we are building our second stadium in 25 years that is not accessible by transit.  Instead of creating an cohesive environment where people can stay in hotels/eat/do things in downtown, midtown and buckhead, then travel to the game via train, Cobb is going to just build their own hotel area to support the stadium, in direct competition with the already established areas.  The fact that buckhead and midtown felt that they needed their own skylines instead of having one truly great one is already enough of a joke, but now we are spreading our amenities out even further, and then not even having transit just to top it off. Just another poor decision that will make it difficult to enjoy all that the Atlanta area has to offer.  I cant even imagine how terrible of a city this must be to visit if you fly here.Report

    Reply
  19. Ken Bleakly says:

    Maria:  Take heart!  Maybe Ted Turner, who wants a green reuse option, could provide a challenge grant to help  relocate Zoo Atlanta to the site and create a green and sustainable park and home for the Zoo  It would be a legacy for Ted, and an asset to all the region as well as the surrounding neighborhoods.Report

    Reply
  20. Burroughston Broch says:

    Ken Bleakly What a lousy spot for animals, right beside I75/85! Continuous air pollution plus a heat island in the summer. They are better off where they are.Report

    Reply
  21. Vinings Homeowner says:

    Hey, dont hang this on the Braves. They gave the City of Atlanta the opportunity and the City had put all their eggs in the Falcons’ basket. The Braves moving out of downtown is 100% on the City of Atlanta.Report

    Reply
  22. writes_of_weigh says:

    Now, it doesn’t take office buildings full of transit planners for such facilities…..transit planning(and it’s impact(s)) can easily be configured with a few clicks of a mouse…….. {{http://bit.ly/1sAHTBt}}……enjoy!Report

    Reply
  23. Lord Blumonki says:

    “A public transit professional?” What the hell is that? A 56 year old loser who never left college after changing his major 10 times, been riding Marta from GSU to his parents house since he was 18 cause he could not get a license Due to him being “too smart…” to fail the Driver’s Permit Test 10 times in a row.
    I just how love condescending this article is…..” Oh whoow-as-me….. If the 2nd Coming Of Christ (a.k.a, Jerry Reed- I mean Kasim) only know of this move before hand…. He would have just……. Given…..the land to the Braves.”
    Whatever Ms. Sarasota ( btw I would be a miserable liberal too if i was named after some old folks town in Florida), your solution is based on some rosy hypothetical that His Benevolence, Pope Reed- The Failious would ordain this gift. Once His Holiness of Central Planning makes this sacred decree from the balcony of the newly constructed St. Peter’s Basillica (a.k.a Arthur Blank’s Playhouse…aka…New Falcon Stadium), a rainbow of puppies, kittens, homless-sapains (a.k.a. Urban Planners/ Urban Professionals/ GSU Professors), and AJC staffers/online city bloggers( still haven’t figured out the difference) would shoot out of every Atlantan’s lower orifice. These magical anal dwelling Chattahooche bottom feeding creatures would dance and sing as long as they please cause that’s the way the Teddy Bears of Urban Plubic Planning have their picnic.Report

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.