Some Super Postmodern Remix of Stadium-Based Corporate Welfare, Urban Renewal and White Flight

The Atlanta Braves have just announced their intention to abandon city-owned Turner Field south of downtown when the team’s lease on the ballpark expires after the 2016 season and move to a new, mostly-taxpayer-funded stadium in Cobb County near the interchange of Interstates 75 and 285, the city’s beltway.

The Braves have spun the move as an economic one, bringing the stadium closer to the center of their ticket-buying public, a claim that, as this graphic from the AJC shows, has some validity. Ticket sales are heavily concentrated in the northside triangle of Buckhead and Cobb, Gwinnett and north Fulton counties. And the southside site is outside of that triangle.

But the idea that this move will give Braves fans a quicker ride to the ballpark is dubious. Residents of Buckhead, north Fulton and Gwinnett will be separated from the Cobb County site by the Chattahoochee river and will have little choice but to take the notorious Perimeter highway. As Bookman says,

In transportation terms, Turner Field is admittedly far from perfect. It doesn’t have direct mass-transit access, and downtown traffic on the interstates has been a challenge. However, at first blush the Cobb County site compounds rather than solves both problems. Adding Braves traffic to an already clogged I-285 or I-75 northbound at rush hour to make a 7:05 first pitch — really? It sounds like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

So getting to the ballpark by car is not going to get a whole lot easier. How about transit access? Unfortunately, while Turner Field is not served by a light rail line, MARTA does operate a shuttle bus from the downtown Underground Atlanta development near the Five Points intersection of all four rail lines. I’ve taken it and it involves a walk through a downscale shopping center and a stroll across a street from the bus stop. I’ve taken it with a two-year old, and it’s convenient and easy.

But perhaps the Braves understand the sentiments of their target audience all too well. In a region where new arrivals quickly learn that MARTA “really” stands for “Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta,” the lack of even such a makeshift transit service to the ballpark at the Cobb site is a feature, not a bug for many potential fans on the north side. Cobb County voters infamously refused to join the MARTA district in the 1970s. Kevin Kruse ably recounts this moment in the epilogue to White Flight, quoting a Cobb County official who approvingly compared the Chattahoochee to a moat separating Cobb County from Atlanta. Cobb County rejected joining the MARTA district as part of a regional transportation plan as recently as 2011 too. This spirit has clearly not gone away, as Cobb County GOP chair Joe Dendy made clear in offering conditions for party support of the stadium plan:

1.) That Cobb County citizens won’t have to pay higher taxes as a result, and

2.) “It is absolutely necessary the (transportation) solution is all about moving cars in and around Cobb and surrounding counties from our north and east where most Braves fans travel from, and not moving people into Cobb by rail from Atlanta.”

Like Charlie Pierce says,

No, thank you, I won’t be needing the Enigma Machine today.

This is not about race because nothing is ever about race.

Indeed. Let’s not be tempted to look at two maps at the same time….

RegionWhiteBaseMapJUA

And let’s also ignore the fact that anyone from Atlanta who wants to catch a Braves game in 2017  will have to take their car across the Lester and Virginia Maddox Memorial Bridge on I-75 over the Chattahoochee….

Strictly as an aside here, if the good citizens of Cobb County stand behind this scheme and pony up so that all of the greater northside can avoid passing through majority black neighborhoods to see a ballgame, despite the county’s dire school budgets and general austerity, I suppose H.L. Mencken would approve:

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

So, while this move brings parts of the region’s history of white flight full circle by drawing out an anchoring regional institution from Atlanta, it also makes an ironic endpoint for an era of sports-related urban renewal on the south side, a history of promised revitalization that panned out more as community displacement. Reading this long piece by Rebecca Burns in Atlanta magazine a couple of things become clear: the Braves are at the center of a dysfunctional network of community and governmental entities that have consistently screwed up grand proposals to revitalize the Summerhill and Peoplestown neighborhoods that surrounded the old Fulton County Stadium, the 1996 Olympics complex, and current-day Turner Field (read this piece by Charles Rutheiser too). The area remains poor and predominantly African American, and if the ballclub today seems more inclined to walk away from the area, I suspect their fans, or the ones whose dollars they care about, can live with that too.

It’s unfortunate that the Braves have chosen this month to make their announcement, because the City of Atlanta has just sealed off a massive deal with the Atlanta Falcons to pony up hundreds of millions of dollars of city funds and hotel tax revenues collected in Atlanta and disbursed by the state legislature to replace the Georgia Dome in the Vine City area of the near west side. The Georgia Dome, too, is a perfectly functional facility less than 20 years old that is nonetheless insufficiently profitable to the team’s owners. Mayor Kasim Reed is putting a, ahem, brave face on the most recent news, promising

“one of the largest developments for middle-class people that the city has ever had” will go up at the site of Turner Field after the Atlanta Braves move to Cobb

and contending that this deal was just too much to place on the city’s taxpayers’ backs:

Reed said the Braves asked for between $150 million and $250 million for infrastructure improvements for the team to remain downtown. He said that would have left the city “absolutely cash-strapped” and unable to chip away at a nearly $1 billion infrastructure backlog.

“Atlanta is not that liberal with our spending,” said the mayor.

That’s a statement that takes a lot of guts, as Neil DeMause of Field of Schemes explains, since

as a best guess for how much the Falcons deal would cost the public, “more than half a billion dollars” is an excellent starting point.

I can only imagine that Reed plans on being long gone when the NFL team bolts for greener (i.e. whiter) pastures in twenty years.

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One comment on “Some Super Postmodern Remix of Stadium-Based Corporate Welfare, Urban Renewal and White Flight

  1. […] week I wrote about the Atlanta Braves’ surprise decision to leave Turner Field–their home since the […]

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