Three statues and the home of the Braves

By Tom Baxter

A few weeks ago I offered an idea for what to do with Tom Watson’s statue: move it down to Marietta Street where it could stand in eternal debate with Watson’s old nemesis, Henry Grady. Circumstances having changed, here’s an improvement on that idea.

Let’s move Hank Aaron’s statue from the Ted to Marietta Street as well, and arrange the three of them in a permanent tableau to represent a huge swath of Atlanta’s history. Grady could be following the arc of the home run ball Aaron just hit, while Watson could be gesturing northwesterly toward the new home of the Atlanta Braves, which some city wags have already unkindly dubbed Mary Phagan Stadium.

All three statues have been jilted, in their separate ways. Watson’s been banished from the Capitol steps by the governor, Grady was left in 2010 by the AJC, which made the move from Marietta Street to Dunwoody (with considerably less analysis than has been afforded the Braves’ move in the past week), and now the Braves are leaving the scene of Aaron’s greatest triumph. The team may be planning to relocate Hammerin’ Hank’s statue to Cobb County, but Marietta Street’s a much better idea.

It’s interesting to note that the area near this proposed statuary collection is experiencing one of its most hopeful periods in some years. The trolley line is taking shape and the College Football Hall of Fame and National Center for Civil and Human Rights are nearing their openings, suggesting much the same sort of multi-use “destination location” idea that played so big a part in the thinking that drove the Braves to Cobb. But the future of the flashy downtown projects depends, now more than ever, on what happens in the area in and around the Ted.

The most unexamined piece of last week’s news might be Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s almost immediate announcement that the fate of the Ted had been decided.

”We’re going to have a master developer that is going to demolish the Ted and we’re going to have one of the largest developments for middle-class people that the city has ever had,” Reed said last week.

You might have thought that the fate of a former Olympic stadium not yet 18 years old would have merited a little more discussion, but then everything about this move has been wham bam. Whether the “master developer” is known already, what sort of plans may be afoot and what, exactly, constitutes “middle class people” are questions yet to be much asked, let alone answered.

This “map essay,” posted on the Georgia State Library blog, is an excellent tool for understanding this story. As it shows, more than 32,000 people once lived in the vast rectangle that became Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and later Turner Field, and the parking lots around them. We might want to go back to something closer to the residential neighborhoods of the 1940s again, or we might not.

The only reason I know the term “charette” is because they had one on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. But maybe a charette — a period of intense planning and designing activity — is just what Atlanta needs right now. Between the Ted and Ft. McPherson down the road in East Point, a huge amount of real estate has been opened along the I-75-I-85 corridor. In large measure the face Atlanta puts forward to the world will depend on how these big chunks of land are developed. There’s a lot at stake in getting that right.

“We built a stadium on ground we didn’t own with money we didn’t have for a team we hadn’t signed,” former Mayor Ivan Allen said of the original initiative that resulted in the construction of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and the luring of the Braves from Milwaukee.

In a lot of ways the move last week was the reverse. The property for the Cobb County stadium had been secured and a rush on the properties around it had ensued  before the story broke (on mdjonline, btw). The financing was already set and the team wasn’t only signed, it was the instigator of the deal.

The people who live and work around Turner field weren’t on the inside in any of those deals, but they deserve a seat at the charette.

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

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