The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 14, 2013

Our View:

Why It Matters: A major league baseball stadium, just 20 years old, is to be abandoned and demolished.

The Mankato Free Press

---- — 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 It’s “outdated.”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.

Atlanta, where new stadiums go to die.

Having been turned down by the city, the Braves turned to the suburbs, specifically Cobb County, a wealthier community and a larger source of ticket buyers than Atlanta proper. Quiet negotiations during the summer led to Monday’s surprise announcement: A $672 million stadium in Cobb County is to become the Braves new home in 2017.

This isn’t officially a done deal; the details of the financing have yet to be explained, and if there is indeed to be $450 million in public money involved, that may be a difficult sell to a county electorate that is described as heavily tea party. But the county commission is scheduled to vote on it this month, and it is expected to approve the stadium.

And Atlanta’s Reed is already making plans for the Turner Field site. The stadium will be rapidly demolished when the Braves pull out, he said Tuesday, and “we’re going to have one of the largest developments for middle-class people that the city has ever had.”

Perhaps. No noteworthy development took place around the stadium during its two decades of use. If Atlanta does in fact turn the space into something economically viable, that would be an improvement — and further evidence that investing in pro sports facilities isn’t a really good use of taxpayer dollars.

Other views on this topic

It was the Olympics’ gift to Atlanta, a stadium free and clear of debt. The taxpayers did not pay a dime for it, neither did the Atlanta Braves. The Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games built an 85,000-seat stadium for the 1996 Olympics with private money and gifted it to the city.

Perhaps that is why Turner Field seems so disposable. It was free.

Mayor Kasim Reed announced Tuesday that in the wake of the news the Braves will move to Cobb County following the 2016 season, the city will tear down the 50,000-seat ballpark, which will be just 20 years old in 2017. He declared in the press conference that there would be no vacant, rotting structure on the south side of the town, but rather a vibrant middle class neighborhood.

It was not what William J. Moss envisioned. Moss supervised the $550 million in construction of venues for the Olympics and told the Orlando Sentinel in 1991, “The idea is not to have any white elephants and for each of these things to have a use after the Olympics is over.”

Ray Glier, freelance writer for USA Today