The Atlanta Braves’ decision to leave Atlanta for a new stadium in Cobb County left many surprised and confused. As details trickle out, Architecture Professor Benjamin Flowers questions who benefits from the new deal and whether it can really be a “walkable” development project.
It must be the year of the stadium in Atlanta. First there were lengthy, often secretive, negotiations with the Falcons about a new stadium deal to keep them inside the city limits.
Then the Atlanta Braves announced—to the surprise of many—their intent to move out of Turner Field and into a new stadium in Cobb County by 2017.
In contrast to the Falcons, negotiations between the Braves and Cobb County seem to have taken place almost entirely without public knowledge and input, much less oversight. (Several well-connected private real estate investors did know when to snap up some providentially located parcels of land, however.) This is notable as Cobb County is offering the Braves public financing that far exceeds (as a percentage of the overall cost of the project) what Atlanta ended up doling out to the Falcons.
It is also notable because leaving the city center to move to the intersection of I-75 and I-285 runs counter to the established trend of developing new sporting-centered redevelopment projects in urban rather than suburban locales. Individual stadia might regularly sprawl, but in projects where the stadium is expected to anchor additional live-work-play development, the trend is to stay inside the city limits (consider the new Nationals stadium in DC, for instance).
The Braves, and some pundits, argue that the new stadium will be part of a larger, “walkable” development project, and that Cobb County really is increasingly as urban as the city of Atlanta. Unfortunately a walkable island floating in a sea of car-centric sprawl does not replicate the experience of urbanity. Indeed, various political leaders in Cobb County have already announced that any transportation infrastructure improvements related to the new stadium will focus exclusively on adding more automobile-centered capacity and will exclude any efforts to add public transportation capacity linking the new stadium to the city after which the franchise is named.
It is worth remembering that these sorts of deals over the past three decades, if not longer, have been shown to benefit mostly very wealthy team owners, generally at the expense of the communities in which their new, shiny stadiums are located.
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