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.