ATLANTA -- It was the Olympics' gift to Atlanta, a stadium free and clear of debt. The taxpayers did not pay a dime for it, neither did the Atlanta Braves. The Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games built an 85,000-seat stadium for the 1996 Olympics with private money and gifted it to the city.
Perhaps that is why Turner Field seems so disposable. It was free.
Mayor Kasim Reed announced Tuesday that in the wake of the news the Braves will move to Cobb County following the 2016 season, the city will tear down the 50,000-seat ballpark, which will be just 20 years old in 2017. He declared in the press conference that there would be no vacant, rotting structure on the south side of the town, but rather a vibrant middle class neighborhood.
It was not what William J. Moss envisioned. Moss supervised the $550 million in construction of venues for the Olympics and told the Orlando Sentinel in 1991, "The idea is not to have any white elephants and for each of these things to have a use after the Olympics is over."
He was right for about 20 years, but at least Atlanta's centerpiece venue fared better than the famed "bird's nest" stadium for the 2008 Bejing Olympics. It has been labeled an "empty nest" because it sits vacant.
The Atlanta Centennial Olympics Stadium was site of one of the most memorable feats of the modern Games. Michael Johnson, wearing gold-colored shoes, won both the 200 and 400 meter dashes in front of 85,000 spectators.
"It was one of the best examples of an Olympic facility being put to long-term use," said Bruce Seaman, an economist with Georgia State University, which is in sight of Turner Field. "Other cities struggled to find a use for their facilities after the Olympics. I find it a tragedy that they will tear down this stadium. This was one of the great legacies of the 1996 Olympics."
The Braves made Turner Field a significant venue because they won nine of their unprecedented 14 division titles there. The club said it invested $125 million in stadium, but it was not willing to spend any more because of the location in the depressed southeast section of Atlanta.
While Reed spoke in Atlanta, the Cobb County Commission was holding a previously scheduled meeting on county matters and received a sampling of the venom they will get in the next two weeks as details of the deal with the Braves are made public.
One resident scolded the five members calling it a "boondoggle" and demanding the commissioners "show loyalty to citizens of Cobb County" by addressing a budget shortfall for schools and other civic needs before a stadium.
Cobb County Commissioner Bob Ott was asked about Reed's assertion that Cobb County was going to be responsible for $450 million in the project. "He was not part of the negotiations," Ott said. "That number was put out to be sensational."
Ott said the financial package and details of the deal between the Braves and Cobb County would be finalized this week.
Ted Turner, the media mogul who owned the Braves through the worst of times and the best of times, did not have much to say on the Braves abandoning his namesake.
"When Time Warner merged with AOL in 2001, the Atlanta Braves were part of the merger package, and later acquired by Liberty Media Corporation," he said in a statement. "I am no longer part of the company and have not been involved in the decision making since 2001. I just hope the Braves will be happy in their new location and continue their winning ways."
In a peculiar, ironic twist there is some development at Turner Field, and it carries a hefty price tag. The city's Department of Watershed Management is constructing a five-million gallon storage vault underneath Turner Field's media parking lot, which is also where high-paying customers park to access their seats behind home plate. The excavation job to alleviate ponding in neighborhoods from all the parking lots and nearby interstate will cost $19.5 million.