It is disturbing to see a piece of civic infrastructure, constructed at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, discarded as if it were a fast food outlet.
Yet that is the case in Atlanta, where Turner Field, the current home of baseball’s Braves, is to be vacated just 21 years after its debut as the Olympic Stadium for the 1996 Summer Games and just two decades after it was retrofitted for baseball.
Welcome to the latest episode of Ballpark Blackmail, in which franchise owners exploit our continuing fascination with pro sports to extort ever-increasing public subsidies to enhance their profits.
Minnesotans are familiar with this process after decades of wrangling that have resulted in a basketball arena in Minneapolis, a hockey showcase in St. Paul, a football stadium on the University of Minnesota campus, a baseball cathedral on one end of Minneapolis’ downtown and a soon-to-be constructed football palace on the other end.
On Tuesday, the Minneapolis City Council approved a $97 million plan for upgrades to Target Center, the aforementioned basketball arena. Half the money will come from the Timberwolves and Lynx (both owned by Mankato’s Glen Taylor); the other half from the city, by which we mean the taxpayers.
Target Center was built in 1990. At the ripe old age of 23, it is now one of the oldest facilities in the NBA. It’s “outdated.”
So, too, apparently, Turner Field. The Braves’ lease on the stadium runs through 2016, and the team demanded in its early lease negotiations a wide variety of improvements — to the park and its surroundings — that Atlanta’s mayor said the city could not afford.
Let us not hasten to laud Kasim Reed for standing firm, however. He’s the same mayor who pushed though at least $200 million in city funding for a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons, the NFL team that calls the city home. That stadium will replace the Georgia Dome, itself just 21 years old this year.