Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A New Home of the Brave? Or Something Else?

My friend Luke Martin said, "If the Braves want to move to a new stadium, that's their business." Live and let live. 

I agree, but I'd go further. We're all citizens of the same planet. The rest of the story around the decision announced yesterday by the Atlanta Braves to abandon their 'home' at Turner Field and build another one 15 miles away in the suburbs makes me wonder about the other reasons that did not make it into the surprise announcement. My thoughts keep bumping into more than just the empty stadium left behind, or the memories that have been made on the two blocks the Braves have occupied since moving South from Milwaukee in '66. 

First, the Braves are free to do whatever they want as a private company. But, this move is not really that of a private company. While their initial press conference did not reveal the numbers, the AJC has since published that $450 million of the $650 million for the new project will come from public (tax-payer) money. Over two-thirds of the cost will come from the public. Yet, the public seems to have been left out of the conversation, save the representatives in government who will boldly try and sell this to their constituents at a later date. That might be a hard sell considering the chatter from Cobb County citizenry yesterday who talked of current local government-worker layoffs and teacher furloughs to make the County budget work out. Again, it seems the parties involved really did have an obligation to seek public input. 

Second, and more troublesome than the rest, seems to be something that I want to resist naming. This seems to be more about who buys the tickets and where they do and don't want to park their cars. The evidence of that comes in the few images that the Braves offered for reasons. One included a map of where ticket buyers are from. Of course, you'll make the drive closer for the north Atlanta crowd, but is there something else going on, too? At the new website to communicate information about the move, homeofthebraves.com, the Braves referenced lack of control over the development of the area surrounding their current home, Turner Field. This is about business, I know, but could it be as much about the sadder side of human nature? The new trend for modern ballparks is to surround them with other entertainment, restaurants, and something people call 'feeling safe'. The thing is, Turner Field and the main parking lots are safe. As safe as the neighborhoods we live in. Yet, there remains a resistance to attending downtown events because of perceived threats. These threats continue to pop up in the conversations around the respective homes of Braves and Falcons. This seems like white flight from downtown Atlanta. 

Finally, there is nothing wrong with the current experience of a fan at Turner Field. The sight-lines are great, and you can even get waffles while watching the game! Yet, we throw away good things that are not used up in order to get something better, don't we? It leads to eyesore junk moved to landfills and higher debt for American households, while never addressing the real cause of the discontent. People would rather spend money on buying something new than on fixing up something that is already there. People like new. It's the human condition. I just don't think it's right. The Braves say that Turner Field currently needs $150 million in infrastructure work (including seat replacement, upgrades to the lighting, etc.), none of which would significantly enhance the fan experience. If the Braves were to pay for additional projects focused on improving the fan experience, the additional costs would exceed $200 million. Instead they will spend the same amount of their own money, and borrow a half a billion from Cobb taxpayers, to build something new. 

An article appears in today's New York Times by Frank Bruni about how every segment of America is becoming tiered around the ability to pay for perks and space. He calls this the "Extra Legroom Society." Read it here at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/12/opinion/bruni-the-extra-legroom-society.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20131112. The Braves are choosing keep up with the trend.

Has anyone else considered how well the Braves kept this from the public and media until the day of the Press Conference? Why? Fear that public discourse would keep them from achieving their agenda? In the end, I will go to the new stadium to see the Braves play. I've been to Braves' games downtown every year since 1980, as best I can recall. Right now, I just don't love the idea, or the underlying causes for the move.

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