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The Braves Leaving Turner Field

It's Business, It's Legal, It's A Shame

So the Braves have recently announced that they will be leaving Turner Field, and building a new ballpark in Cobb County, where they will begin playing baseball in 2017.

The Braves’ stated reasons for leaving a 20-year old ballpark are rooted in accessibility, at least for the most part. They’ve cited a “lack of consistent public transportation” and a “lack of sufficient parking”. They also believe the ballpark needs $150 million in upkeep just to keep it viable.

I’ve been to Turner Field three times. I have never tried to get there from I-75/85, but I have come from I-20 and I’ve used the MARTA/Braves Shuttle, and I’ve had little trouble with either method of transit. 

As a baseball venue, Turner is far easier to get to than, say, Citi Field in New York, which is a royal and expensive pain in the rear end if you’re coming from New Jersey, no matter what form of transit you use.

Honestly, I’m not sure I buy the argument about keeping the ballpark viable either. So you spend $150 million on new seats and lights? Fine, and then you don’t have to spend it again for however many years that lasts. What’s the problem? It’s still cheaper than building a new stadium.

All of that said though, I’m not sure I fault the Braves for what they’re doing.

Turner Field’s neighborhood isn’t great and the promises of an urban revival with a new ballpark in the area, like with Baltimore or Cleveland, haven’t come to fruition. The only reason to come there for entertainment is for a baseball game. There is exactly one tavern nearby and two hotels, and the nearest other city attraction is the zoo a mile away.

People are cautioned to leave the area after the game, and fans complain about panhandlers quite a bit. (Just for the record though, any ballpark in the heart of a city has panhandlers.)

The Braves supposedly asked the city of Atlanta to help out with public transit…plans of a direct MARTA line to Turner were offered but never seriously debated…and with the buildup of the area. The city refused, and then forked over $200 million in taxpayer dollars for a new retractable roof stadium for the Falcons, who also currently play in a perfectly viable venue that isn’t that old.

A retractable roof for football? Seriously? If the Falcons put on their big boy pants and agreed to play in any weather like football teams supposedly do—and this is Atlanta for crying out loud, it’s not Green Bay—the city might have had money left over to help keep the Braves in town.
Hey, Smart Fan! Want to experience Turner while it's still here? Check out Kurt's complete guide to Turner Field - click here!
Meanwhile, Cobb County is offering the Braves prime real estate in the location closer to their fan base, and they are going to kick in 45% of the $672 million to build a stadium. Presumably, the Braves will own this venue, unlike Turner Field, which is owned by the city of Atlanta. From a pure dollars standpoint, it’s a no brainer.

The Braves signed a 20-year lease to play in Turner Field, and they intend to honor it, unlike the Rays, who are constantly demanding that the Tampa Bay area build a new ballpark for them and ignore their contract to play in Tropicana Field until 2027.

If I have a couple of beefs about the matter, the first is that I like Turner Field. There isn't anything seriously wrong with it as a venue, despite what the Braves may claim. It’s a terrific and underrated ballpark in my opinion. I like the brick exterior and blue seats, I think the scoreboard is tremendously impressive, and there are a lot of vantage points to enjoy a great view. I didn’t mind seeing the Vet in Philly go, but I don’t like to see a decent ballpark get demolished after just 20 years.

Another bone I’d pick would be the public financing. Cobb County is assuring their residents that the majority of revenue used to pay for the new ballpark will come from hotel taxes. Great if you live in Cobb County, but believe it or not, it’s stuff like this that makes hotel room taxes…yes, just the taxes…a significant expense for certified road trip geeks like myself. No one minds taxing the other guy, but when you rent a car or get a hotel room in a city that’s built a sports venue with tax dollars, you’re the other guy.

But in the end, the Braves aren’t breaking any rules or going back on a deal. The team might as well say, “We made a calculated business decision, because we’re a business and businesses exist to make money.”

That’s ultimately the truth, and honestly, I don’t have a problem with that.

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