ATLANTA -- The ink is just dry on plans for the Atlanta Falcons' $1 billion stadium, which is scheduled to open for the 2017 NFL season. It will be a lavish attraction for downtown, with a retractable roof and amenities galore for fans and the team. State and local politicians promised at least $250 million for construction costs from hotel/motel tax receipts, a figure that will likely rise.
Did the city back the wrong team?
The Atlanta Braves, who play 81 home games compared to the Falcons' eight, also were looking for public money to stay in Turner Field, which, like the Falcons' Georgia Dome that opened in 1992, is hardly antiquated. The Ted, nicknamed for communications mogul Ted Turner, opened in 1997. But the area surrounding that stadium was in need of redevelopment, and the ballpark needed repairs. The Braves asked for considerable help from the city, and did not get it -- leading to the unthinkable Monday morning.
They issued their walking papers.
The team announced when its 20-year lease expires in 2016 it will move to a $672 million stadium in Cobb County, 14 miles up I-75 from The Ted, in time for the 2017 season. It will have an Atlanta address, and the team will remain the Atlanta Braves, but they will not be Atlanta's Braves.
"The Falcons were not worth what we were giving them in hotel/motel tax because the number of games is so small," said Julian Bene, a board member for InvestAtlanta, the economic development arm of Atlanta, who voted against giving the Falcons' public money.
"Now you are talking about the Braves, who play eight times as many games as the Falcons, and you are talking about a little more jobs' impact from that particular team. ... It's pretty shocking that we funded the wrong stadium."
Cobb County had already snatched the Atlanta Opera and the Atlanta Ballet in the last several years, and it set its sights on the Braves.
The franchise moved to Atlanta from Milwaukee in 1966, played in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium through the 1996 season, then moved across the street to Turner Field. That was originally the 85,000-seat Centennial Olympic Stadium for the 1996 Olympics, paid for by private funds ($207 million), then downsized for baseball field seating of 49,743.
The area around Turner Field was never revitalized, as some promised would happen. There were rows of townhomes built two blocks away. The stadium authority tried to put a miniature golf course across Hank Aaron Drive, but it turned out to be a colossal waste of money. The area around the stadium was mostly parking lots and some rundown buildings, with a facility for cancer hospice care tucked in behind the park.
Cobb County is a robust area for the Tea Party, the grassroots push for reeling in government spending. Asked if he were worried about an assault from a formidable group like that, Cobb Commission chairman Tim Lee said, "I consider the Tea Party a good friend of mine. I believe they will find this is a win-win for everyone involved."
In a written statement, Atlanta's mayor wished the Atlanta Braves well on their move from Turner Field and saying the city won't try to match Cobb County's $450 million offer.
In his news release, Kasim Reed wrote, "There was simply no way the team was going to stay in downtown Atlanta without city taxpayers spending hundreds of millions of dollars...
"Given the needs facing our city and the impact of Turner Field stadium on surrounding neighborhoods, that was something I, and many others were unwilling to do," he wrote.
Reed wrote that he's heard that Cobb County has offered to pay $450 million toward the cost of a new stadium -- but neither the team nor Cobb has confirmed that.