Inadequate parking was one of the main reasons the Braves cited for needing a new ballpark. Now that plans for the Cobb County stadium are finally coming out, it emerges that the new stadium will have 2,500 fewer parking spaces than Turner Field.
Getting to Turner Field was never easy. In a car-centric region, the 8,50o-car parking lot wasn't enough. Using public transportation was a chore, with fans needing to take shuttles from the Five Points MARTA station, about a mile away. But the new ballpark sounds like it will be even worse. With tens of thousands of fans arriving in Cobb County, all by road and all at the same time, there will be just 6,000 parking spaces available.
The plan is for the "spillover" traffic to park in lots at local malls, hotels, and office parks. From there, fans will take trams to the ballpark. Not buses, as in downtown Atlanta, but "golf-like trams."
In the wake of the Cobb County GOP chairman saying he doesn't want urban Atlantans taking mass transit to games ("the solution is...not moving people into Cobb by rail from Atlanta"), it's hard to see the suburbanization of the Braves as anything but a blow against the idea of public transportation. But it's not going to be walk in the park for drivers either.
Of course, there's a very good reason the Braves might want to divert parking revenues to local businesses—they, after all, are picking up a chunk of the tab for the stadium. (Slightly less than half. The rest of the county's contribution will come from all residents' property taxes.) And not surprisingly, there are allegations of shady business— large real estate deals around the proposed stadium area being completed over the past few months, before the stadium was publicly announced. Think of the killing that could be made on buying up land based on inside information.
"In my experienced opinion," Alan Wexler, CEO of Databank Inc., said, "some of these transactions are directly or secondarily connected to the Braves."
One person standing to gain is State Rep. Earl Ehrhart, a partner in a nearby sports complex under construction. Ehrhart, perhaps coincidentally, is the one who first put the Braves and the county commissioner together to start talking stadium deal.
The county commission will vote on the stadium deal one week from today (taxpayers don't get a say), and the campaigning on both sides is commencing in earnest. Monday will see a joint protest by the strangest of bedfellows: the Sierra Club and the Atlanta Tea Party will hold a rally.
Meanwhile, some unidentified pro-stadium group is robocalling Cobb County residents with leading questions like "Does the fact that property taxes won't increase make it more or less likely you would support a new Braves' stadium?" It does not mention that existing property tax revenues will be used for the ballpark—about $100,000 per home game over the next 30 years. But by now that's the unspoken economic subtext of stadium financing: socialized risk, privatized profit.