On the weekend of July 18th I attended two baseball games at Atlanta’s Turner Field, home of the national league Atlanta Braves. I enjoyed the baseball experience, but as is often the case every story has a byline. In this case it is the upcoming demise of Turner Field itself, first built as an Olympic stadium in 1996 before opening as the home of the Braves in 1997.
Designed by Minnesota based Ellerbe Becket, famous for numerous sports facilities throughout the world, Turner Field is a beautiful place. Approaching just its 20th year it is a viable, well-constructed venue near downtown Atlanta. Promises of politicians to revitalize the low income neighborhood around the field have been broken for years. Nevertheless Turner field is a safe and popular stadium very close to most of Atlanta’s urban residents.
In the shadow of Turner field a friendly, well-spoken woman sells iced water, soft drinks, and snacks to baseball fans who walk by her table. She’s done this for 15 years and today has the assistance of her granddaughter. 81 times a year she gets this opportunity to make some needed extra income. She’s not the only one. The Braves need parking lot attendants, food vendors, security people, janitorial staff and many other people to hold a major league baseball game. Many of these people have low incomes and live in the neighborhood surrounding Turner Field. Most are people of color. All of these workers are thankful that this part time income can be earned right in their neighborhood.
All of this will end within two years as the Braves and Suburban Cobb County officials have conspired to abandon sturdy, reliable and still modern Turner Field to build a brand new park in the Atlanta Suburbs. This was done without a single public hearing and without any vote of the people. The Turner Field vendors and employees living near downtown Atlanta will not have convenient public transportation to work at the new stadium. Urban jobs will be lost and essential income will vanish for those in the Turner Field neighborhood. Societal resources will be squandered on a massive scale as hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent to construct new highway infrastructure and build a new ballpark in the suburbs, miles away from the fan base of the Atlanta Braves.
Ironically this entire boondoggle might end up doing in the Braves. Attendance is already down 4,200 people per game this year. Will 40,000 fans want to hop in their cars and fight miles of snarling traffic to see the Braves play in a new ballpark in the burbs or will they decide instead to spend their entertainment dollars elsewhere? I predict an initial “attendance bounce” in the first year or two that the new park is in business. Ultimately though unless the Braves can put together a team with the dominance they demonstrated in the nineties, Atlantans may well remember the “good old days” before both their Braves and Turner Field suffered a premature death.