Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What Happens to Turner Field?

That's the question I've heard most over the last couple of days since the Braves announced what's going to happen with the move to Cobb County. I can't say I even thought much about it. The lease is up in 2016, and I had expected the Braves to either renovate the entire stadium, or move. Either way, the Ted as we know it wasn't going to be the Ted anymore. Well, we learned recently from Mayor Kassim Reed, that the stadium will be demolished, and replaced with, "one of the largest developments for middle-class people that the city has ever had."

Now, this is a baseball blog, not a blog about city politics and real estate. Sometimes, on rare occasions, those things intersect each other at the corner of Expiring Lease Dr. and New Stadium Blvd. What usually results is a trainwreck of posturing, promises, veiled insults, and outright lies. In this regard, the Atlanta Braves bypassed most of those problems playing out in the press. They achieved that by conducting the deal with Cobb County in iron-clad secrecy. They also made sure to not announce it until after the city elections, because the loss of the Braves to another county would have cost a lot of city officials their jobs in the polls. Not that I care one way or the other about the officials who ignored the stadium problems for years. They had their shot for the last 5 years to do something about the woeful transportation issues around Turner Field, and their solution was to make all the fans tromp through Underground Atlanta to ride a bus. Why? Because the City owns the rights to Underground, and it never gets enough foot traffic. Yeah.

But now, the city is promising to bring in a developer to put together a massive middle-class development on the Turner Field footprint.

That's Turner Field and the surrounding parking lots that could open up to provide space for this proposed development. Now, if you're thinking Atlantic Station, I'd put that out of your mind given what Reed is saying. Atlantic Station's stores and rents are about as far from middle-class as you can get. If the middle class can afford $2,200 a month in rent for a 2 bedroom loft, then I think our country is doing a lot better than I'm hearing on the news. So, it won't be something like that. What I believe they will try to do is create something that would provide apartments and high rise living for people that already work in the downtown and financial districts, but can't or don't want to pay some of the Midtown prices.

The land is certainly there. My concern is who will develop it? Just looking at a site like I don't see a single housing development on the radar that's scheduled below I-20. This would be a major undertaking for a company in an area that a lot of developers are ignoring, and have frankly ignored for years. These people aren't like public officials like Mayor Reed, and they expect to make a tidy profit off whatever they put in the ground. Sometimes, it doesn't make economic sense to put a development in a bad location just because the City of Atlanta wants one there. Real estate still is about location, location, location.

Also, I question how fast these things move. The City of Atlanta isn't exactly know for it's foresight or expediency, as evidenced by Kassim Reed saying that the city had a one billion dollar infrastructure backlog, and that was the reason they couldn't make a deal with the Braves. So for a city that has over a billion in past infrastructure issues, that I can assure you didn't just occur overnight, it now is determined to put even more money into infrastructure developments for a community in the Turner Field area. Also, while Mayor Reed is adamant about this development now, who knows what economic factors the city faces in three years? The pipeline for these projects is in terms of several years themselves, and Mayor Reed will be in the last year of his second term right as the stadium is supposed to be demolished.

In short, I'm not sure I buy what the city is selling right now. It's easy to make promises about grand plans when you just got burned in the press for letting the team relocate. Will the City of Atlanta actually follow through? Given the track record in the past, and the amount of financial woes that may or may not come with the building of the Falcons stadium, I don't think anybody has any idea what will be standing on the Turner Field site in 2020, not even Mayor Reed.


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