When your baseball team’s winning percentages for each of the last three seasons were .488, .414 and .422, there’s not a lot to cheer about.
Add it all up and you get a team that’s gone 214-271 from 2014 through 2016 in Major League Baseball, good for combined winning percentage of .441. A far cry from playoff contention, the Atlanta Braves on the field have been the picture of mediocrity or worse.
Off the field, it’s an entirely different story. In fact, before the first pitch of the 2017 MLB season is even thrown, one could say that the Braves are on an historic winning streak.
Consider the club’s track record since the final out of the 2016 season was recorded last October:
By any standard, that’s one very busy and successful off-season. Even if the Braves fail to make the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year, they will have shown solid revenue growth and added potentially $747 million in new baseball stadiums in two states to their portfolio.
Factor in an additional $452-million mixed-use development known as The Battery next to SunTrust Park and the total tab of new development under Braves’ control in Cobb County goes to $1.1 billion.
If the Braves were lobbing batting-practice pitches toward home plate in their former economic model attached to the now-vacant Turner Field in downtown Atlanta, their new model is like a 105-mph heater hurled by Aroldis Chapman.
The New Magnet of Cumberland
It’s a big-bet economic gambit that is already transforming the Cumberland Community Improvement District. Home to 33 percent of Cobb County’s economy and 5.4 percent of state GDP, Cumberland is projected to add a total of $2 billion in real estate value by 2024 — one-third of the time it took for the CCID to capture the last $2 billion.
SunTrust Park is not the only new development taking place in the CCID, but it’s driving a good deal of all the rest. Investments in the district include 9.5 million sq. ft. of commercial and residential properties that are now under construction and almost 2.5 million sq. ft. of commercial and residential property zoned for future development.
All of this is taking place in an area of just 6.5 square miles, located approximately 10 miles north of downtown Atlanta and 14 miles from the Braves' former stadium.
The current pipeline of $5 billion in construction projects includes 1,400 new hotel rooms, 625,000 sq. ft. of new retail space, 5,342 new residential units, and 1.7 million sq. ft. of new office space in five Class A towers. Synovus Financial Corp. is set to open its new office this year, while Greenstone’s HD Supply is on track to open its new offices in 2018.
Malaika Rivers, executive director of the CCID, says that 67,000 people go to work each day within the district. “Over the next 10 years, we expect to see 10,000 new jobs added to that daily total,” she says. “We always knew that growth was coming, but the Braves are accelerating that growth. People are wanting to become more familiar with the market. I’m getting one to two calls a day from people expressing interest in investing here.”
Rivers, whose office in the Cobb Chamber Building sits just a short stroll from SunTrust Park, says the amenities in Cumberland now rival those of major cities. (The CCID is officially part of a major city: the 28-county Greater Atlanta MSA, the ninth-largest metro area in the nation.) “We will have the newest and best baseball stadium in America, national parkland and a world-class performing arts center all within our boundaries,” she notes. “That’s driving interest from all over.”
A recent trip to SunTrust Park for a behind-the-scenes tour revealed just how much this area just north of downtown Atlanta is changing. Orange cones, heavy-duty trucks and construction workers are everywhere in Cumberland, building new facilities or working on some part of the $2 billion in transportation improvement projects in the area.
Nick Nicastro, assistant director of premium sales for the Atlanta Braves, says that everything is on track for SunTrust Park to be fully operational and ready for business by opening day. The ballpark structure itself is substantially completed, with much of the remaining work confined to cosmetic enhancements, clubhouse finishing and field turf work.
Make no mistake — this is not your father’s ballpark. While Turner Field was a converted Olympic stadium that fulfilled its role admirably for two decades, SunTrust Park is in every way a state-of-the-art, modern Major League Baseball stadium with all the amenities and accoutrements of the best sporting venues on the planet.
Designed by Populous and built by American Builders 2017, SunTrust Park has 41,500 vertically aligned seats that put the fans directly on top of and much closer to the action on the field, bringing a degree of truth in advertising to the saying, “There’s not a bad seat in the house.” And if you must get away from the action long enough to grab a beer or hot dog, don’t worry — virtually every concession stand and restaurant in SunTrust Park is situated in a location where you can still watch every play on the field.
The Battery Lineup Takes Shape
Unlike Turner Field (see sidebar), which had few options for dining or entertainment outside the stadium, SunTrust Park will have The Battery, a village full of shops, bars, clubs, movie theaters, residences and more.
The high-end sports bar Yard House will open in April and have a guest capacity of 829 in 12,000 sq. ft. of space. Also opening in The Battery in April are the Braves Clubhouse Store, Coca-Cola Roxy Theatre, Two Ballpark Center, Mizuno Experience Center, Terrapin Taproom, Todd English Tavern, Sport & Social, Antico Pizza and Harley-Davidson.
Coming in May are C. Ellet’s, Goldberg’s Bagel Company & Deli, Haagen-Dazs, FEED Fried Chicken & Such, Wahlburgers, Sugarboo and Dress Up.
The only question is the traffic, which is already a congestion nightmare around the interchange of I-75 and I-285 in Smyrna. While plenty of new access lanes, bridges and connecting roads are being built to accommodate the additional traffic coming to and from the ballpark, no one really knows what traffic will be like until an actual game day arrives.
Still, Nicastro says the Braves have planned for all contingencies, including providing an estimated 11,000 parking spaces on site for gameday visitors.
As for the product on the field, the Braves’ front office has been working on that part too, signing some big-name free-agent pitchers and shoring up the everyday lineup by adding perennial Gold Glove second baseman Brandon Phillips from the Cincinnati Reds. Shortstop phenom Dansby Swanson is expected to challenge for National League Rookie of the Year, and manager Brian Snitker hopes to build on the momentum of last season’s late surge.
Hopes always run high every spring for baseball teams. But this year, off the field at least, the Braves know they’ve already hit a grand slam.