Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Your Handy-Dandy Guide To the Marietta Barves

Today, the Atlanta Braves announced that they've purchased land in suburban Cobb County, upon which they intend to erect a stadium complex they'll move into in time for the 2017 season. This is unusual, in that for the past several decades teams have steadily returned to urban centers from the 'burbs, and because the Braves already have a perfectly serviceable stadium.  Here, then, is our attempt to break down the nuances of the move.

They can do that?
Their lease at Turner Field expires after the 2016 season. They're free to move anywhere they want. Of course, MLB has some fairly strict rules about where they'll allow their teams to play, so realistically their options are A)renew the lease on Turner Field B)build a new place or C)hope the zombified corpse of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium rises from its grave beneath the asphalt of the Turner Field parking lots.

Why are the Braves moving to Cobb County?

Can we get a little more granular than that?
Most of their ticket base is in the wealthy northern suburbs of Atlanta, in places like Marietta. So moving to a stadium closer to that ticket base - and let me tell you, that ticket base hates driving into town, because Atlanta traffic is like monsoon season, tiresomely predictable and it's best not to be caught in it - theoretically means more attendance from those fans, and thus, more money. Except, of course, those fans in and south of the city are out of luck. But there are less of those, so whatever.

Can't they just take public transportation to the new stadium?
Nope. The good voters of Cobb County, Georgia shoot down every public rail initiative that might extend MARTA into their neighborhoods, presumably out of fear that The Poors might board trains, disembark in posh neighborhoods, and thus get up to shenanigans.

Didn't they just get a stadium not too long ago?
Turner Field was originally built for the 1996 Olympics, with the understanding that the Braves would move in once the Games were done (and psychotics stopped planting nail bombs in the Olympic Park). 

So the Braves were doing the city a favor by taking over the park that got built for the Olympics?
In much the same way that Homer was doing Marge a favor by taking over that bowling ball he got her for Christmas already monogrammed with his name. 

Still, it's not that bad, right?
It's a modern stadium, less than 20 years old. Were it a person, it would not be old enough to drink or vote, though considering the beer selection they had at Turner Field when I lived in Atlanta, the not drinking part is not much of a loss. The Braves claim it needs $200M of refurbishments, most of which, one assumes, would really be money-making upgrades for the Braves. But honestly, it's in solid shape, with a lot of modern amenities, and no threat of large chunks of concrete falling off it like old Yankee Stadium.

Then what's wrong with it?
Well, for one thing, there's that $200M repair bill, though I'd love to see that itemized. 

What else?
Then there's the fact that the Braves claim it's in a bad neighborhood (it isn't, it's surrounded by parking lots), that it's hard to get to (it's right off multiple highways) and that there's nothing around it for people to do.

But that's because it's surrounded by parking lots, right?
Right. Which the Braves like.

So where would the restaurants and bars and stuff go?
Dunno. Presumably, not in the parking lots.

But the new site would have lots of those things, right?
The new site is supposed to be a mixed development - also at the junction of two highways - with the stadium, amenities, green space, and - wait for it - parking lots.

Who's paying for all this?
The new stadium is supposed to cost somewhere just south of $700M, which will no doubt balloon to somewhere around a billion as soon as the first shovelful of dirt gets turned. In theory, $450M or so will be coming from Cobb County, with the rest covered by the Braves. Cobb County swears that the money isn't going to be coming from tax revenues, which means that they either have Rumplestiltskin doing contract work for them or that they're being very creative about their definitions of public money. (Cobb's got all sorts of budget woes, so where they might find an extra $450 laying around is anyone's guess.) The Braves, meanwhile, are on the hook for $200M or so, of which they will actually pay very little. They'll also almost certainly get the concession rights, the parking rights, the naming rights and whatever other secondary revenue streams the place generates.

Wait. I'm confused. 
Not as confused as Cobb County taxpayers and businesses are going to be when the shortfalls inevitably land on their shoulders. Look for special "short term" taxes on hotel rooms and whatnot to be proposed as a method of raising the funds. Look at the disaster that is the Minnesota Vikings' new stadium to see exactly how thoroughly that's going to bork the locals. Alternately, check out the final bill for the Marlins' new stadium.

What is Atlanta doing to keep the Braves?
Exactly what they should, which is nothing. Atlanta's got enough holes in its budget it doesn't need to be handing a couple of hundred million dollars over to a media conglomerate based in Colorado, and kudos to the city's mayor for noticing that.

But they'll lose the Braves!
All the way out to the Perimeter. A dozen miles away. Of course, in Atlanta traffic, that's a couple of hours, but what the hey. You gotta do what you gotta do.

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