Thursday is opening day of the second season at SunTrust Park as the Atlanta Braves square off against the Philadelphia Phillies. When the Braves shocked the world with their ambitious plans to move from Turner Field to Cobb County in November 2013, the skeptics and conspiracy theorists began swinging from the rafters.
One prediction had it that the Braves would never build their private $500 million entertainment district adjacent to the new ballpark. Like most conspiracy theories, this turned out to be false.
Recall also one of the greatest criticisms at the time of the announcement was that the new ballpark would cause traffic asphyxiation. The navel-gazing Atlanta media moaned that the sky was falling, the waters rising and God had left heaven. True, the new ballpark is smack dab at the congested intersection of Interstates 75 and 285, but those who induced themselves to have the vapors needn’t have done so. Parking turned out to be fine, and credit goes to the thoughtful planning carried out by the Braves working with county and state planners.
A plan was designed with parking spots in various locations around the ballpark, so that fans don’t get in the car and ask Siri to take them to SunTrust Park, but rather input the parking lot they’ve been assigned when purchasing tickets.
That technology distributes drivers to different roads and exits, diffusing potential bottlenecks as fans navigate to the ballpark.
Despite skepticism, the Braves are holding up their end of the bargain. Traffic issues have been non-existent, and regarding those claims that the adjacent entertainment district was merely a negotiating ploy, one only needs to take a jaunt through The Battery to experience a thriving, attractive and safe entertainment complex.
When fans went to a game at Turner Field, they went to a game – period. There was nothing to do around the ballpark. Before or after a game at SunTrust Park, fans can choose from a variety of restaurants – pizza to Mexican to fine dining. They can pitch bocce balls, throw darts, bowl, play ping pong, foosball or cornhole at a variety of establishments. They can shop. They can get a shave. They can watch the game or kick around the soccer ball at the plaza or come to movie night and watch a flick on the big screen. They can catch the hottest musical acts at the Roxy.
Critics wondered if the Battery would become a ghost town during the off season. Not close. The Battery has withstood its first test. More often than not, the crowds walking and playing around the Battery are more than healthy.
With season one deemed a success, there’s no reason not to expect the same with more businesses and attractions opening. Comcast moved 800 employees into its new nine-story building in December. The 264-key, four-star Omni Hotel and its 20,000 square foot ballroom opened in January. The 531 Battery apartments are about 80 percent occupied, according to Jeremy Strife, the Battery’s general manager. So there’s at least that many more people in and around the Battery now. This year, the Coca-Cola Roxy is expected to host 50 ticketed shows and between 25 to 35 private events from galas to conferences.
Despite these achievements, Braves misbelievers hang onto their final argument: Show me the money.
Let’s take a look …
In 2012, the fair market value for the Battery and Braves properties surrounding it was $19.6 million.
On Jan. 1, 2017, just prior to the first opening season, values grew nearly tenfold to $181.5 million.
This year, that number is expected to double, according to Stephen White, director of the Cobb County Board of Tax Assessors. And expect more growth in 2019 as the Battery continues to be developed.
Meanwhile, the Cumberland Community Improvement District in which the Battery is located has benefited from the halo effect.
Fair market value in the CID rose from $2.75 billion in 2012 to $3.25 billion in 2017. White’s team is still crunching the numbers for 2018, but he admits he’s never seen anything like it.
Last year, the county began making its annual contribution of $16.4 million to repay its portion of bonds that covered $300 million of SunTrust Park’s $672 million construction cost. Of the county’s $16.4 million bond payment contribution, $6.4 million comes out of the county’s general fund via property tax revenues. Special taxes and fees cover the remaining $10 million.
And don’t forget to factor in the 1 percent sales tax. Think about it this way: For every $10 beer sold at the park or the Battery, a dime goes to local schools and a dime goes to the county. Throw in food, ticket sales, concert revenue, etc. and the impact is substantial.
By the time the Battery is fully built out, Commissioner Bob Ott expects that general fund payment and accompanying capital maintenance costs will be covered by the new taxes generated by the development. Or at least it will be pretty close, he predicts. Ott believes critics took their anger at how the project came together and convinced themselves that it was destined for failure. Indeed, they certainly took their anger out on the project’s principle architect by frog-marching County Chairman Tim Lee from office. Ott acknowledged it would have been wise to have had a longer discussion period before commissioners approved the deal instead of the shotgun wedding that took place. And a stadium by itself would have been a different story.
“But the Battery, it’s unique,” Ott said. “It’s never been done where it’s been built at the same time. I think that’s really the takeaway. I think it’s been very, very positive.”
There will always be those naysayers who refuse to recognize any benefit from the Braves’ move into Cobb County. But for the rest who enjoy the amenities of having the major leagues in the neighborhood, it’s time to play ball.