The Atlanta Braves announced today that after just 17 seasons at Turner Field, their current home in Atlanta, they'll soon move to a new stadium in nearby Cobb County.
The team will open the 2017 season 14 miles northwest of the current stadium in an area surrounded by retail, restaurants and hotels, and public money will help support the project.
"We think this is going to be a remarkable, positive development on all sides," team president John Schuerholz told MLB.com. "It will make it far greater for our fans, with a far more enjoyable experience. It should be successful. We believe it makes us look more comfortably, favorably and positively toward the continued development of our organization."
The announcement is likely to generate controversey, given how little time the Braves have spent at their current home, and the fact that deal appears to involve taxpayer subsidies. Despite a big announcement of the new stadium, neither the team nor the county will say exactly what each of them may contribute.
A press release issued by the Braves says the facility will cost $672 million with both the team and Cobb County helping to pay for it. The Braves will put a "significant financial investment" into the deal, with Cobb County also contributing to the cost of the stadium and funding other improvements in the surrounding area, including possible transportation upgrades.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, citing unnamed sources, said Cobb County would contribute $450 million and the team would put up $200 million. Officials with Cobb County did not return several calls from Governing Monday, and team officials remain coy about the details.
"There are many inaccurate funding numbers that have been put forward, and it’s important to clarify that the final mixture of funding sources has not been determined," the team said in a statement. Construction would start in late 2014.
There's been increasing skepticism directed toward public subsidies of professional sports venues in recent years. Almost universally, independent economists say they aren't a good deal for taxpayers and typically don't generate anywhere near the sort of economic impact that team owners and public officials say they do.
"That seems pretty outlandish, extravagant, stupid -- however you want to describe it," Dennis Coates, an economics professor at University of Maryland Baltimore County, said upon learning of the deal. "Not for the Braves. It's a great deal for them. But politicians who go along with that, and then start screaming about fiscal responsibility -- they need to be smacked."
The Braves' lease on Turner Field expires at the end of 2016. Team officials say the publicly-owned Turner Field needs $150 million worth of upgrades including new seats and lightning repairs, none of which would impact the fan experience. They also say the facility lacks adequate transit options, parking spaces and highway access.
The city and the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority, which own Turner Field, will have to decide what to do with the stadium next. As Governing reported in 2011, local governments usually struggle to determine what to do with stadiums once teams leave.
The Braves played in Fulton County Stadium from 1966 to 1996, then moved to Turner Field -- originally built for the 1996 Olympics -- in 1997.
"Turner Field is a facility that was built for three weeks of use for the Olympics, but has now served us well for nearly 20 years," the team said in a statement. "The issue isn’t the Turner Field we play in today, but instead whether or not the venue can remain viable for another 20 to 30 years.
Of the 30 Major League Baseball stadiums, Turner Field is the 14th oldest, roughly in the middle of the pack. Indeed, the country is in the middle of stadium bonanza.
Nearly half the league's stadiums opened in 2000 or later. But the Braves -- who will move out after just 21 season--would be an anomaly. On average, those teams played more than 37 seasons at their previous homes before moving to new digs, according to a Governing analysis (that figure didn't include baseball's newest team, the Washington Nationals, who briefly played in a 1960s-era football stadium when the team first came to DC).
In a statement released Monday, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said the city wasn’t willing to spend huge sums of public money to keep the team. “It is my understanding that our neighbor, Cobb County, made a strong offer of $450 million in public support to the Braves and we are simply unwilling to match that with taxpayer dollars.” Reed said. “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.” The city is already providing $200 million in public funding to support a new stadium for its football team, the Atlanta Falcons.