Blank the Braves
So, apparently the Atlanta Braves are for sale, I don’t know if you’ve heard or not. If you live around Atlanta, you’d have to live in bubble not to have heard. And you’d also have to be a bubble boy not to know that everyone and their brother have suggested that Arthur Blank buy the team. So let me just hop on this band wagon and say that I too would pick Arthur Blank as my first choice to buy the Braves.
The bottom line on Blank is that he knows how to get fans in the seats. For the Falcons he turned the routine of one to two sellout games a season into every game being a sellout, even preseason. Blank knows the value of a team with a superstar like Vick, so he must know the value of the Braves with stars the likes of Jones, Jones, Smoltz, and Francoeur.
But I believe the transformation of the Atlanta Braves needs to go further than just an owner with marketing prowess. We need an owner who can turn baseball in Atlanta into something other than a commuter sport. Something more than a stadium planted in the middle of parking lots. Atlanta is not only ready, but Atlanta needs the neighborhood stadium.
I’m not talking about building a new stadium in some yet-to-be-determined neighborhood of Atlanta. I’m talking about building a neighborhood in the parking lots around our current stadium. Take away the acres of parking spaces that go unused for half the year and plant houses and condos and lofts and markets in their place. Take a look at the picture below. Take a look at all the parking lots that border The Ted.
Building a neighborhood is not a foreign idea in the Atlanta metro area. We build more neighborhoods than almost anyone else in the country. Even within the city of Atlanta we have built and are building neighborhoods from empty lots and abandoned land. And the City of Atlanta is emphasizing neighborhoods in their effort to revitalize downtown. So why not try and bring the feel of the neighborhood stadiums of Boston and Chicago to Atlanta.
Oh sure, there are plenty of places to build and hide parking desks for the throngs of people that stream in from the burbs, and they could even be built adjacent to the interstate for easy access to and from. There they could also serve as a barrier to the traffic noise for our newly built neighborhood.
Building a surrounding neighborhood would no longer make The Ted a Wal-Mart stadium (Wal-Mart being a destination which is rarely surrounded by other stores). You could come to The Ted a few hours before the game and walk through the blocks around the stadium that wind from Hank Aaron Hill to Dale Murphy Drive. Stop off at one of the many watering holes and have a cold one before heading over to your favorite deli to pick up a couple of sandwiches before heading across the street to the game.
Other baseball cities have transformed downtowns by making the baseball stadium a neighborhood ballpark. San Diego moved from a stadium surrounded by parking lots to one on the edge of their old downtown. Denver built its baseball park in the middle of the city. These are two cities that have become even greater baseball towns because their ballparks are right there among the neighborhoods.
Another thing that the neighborhood stadium creates is an atmosphere of ownership for the fans. Bostonians and Chicagoans can say that the stadium is a part of the city. Atlantans can only say that the city has a stadium, but that the stadium feels removed from the city somehow. It is still in a way just the municipal mega-plex that was the old Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. Sure you can see the skyline behind the scoreboard, but you know that it’s off in the distance. You know that there is a void between the city and the ballpark. You know there is a moat of paved nothingness that removes you from Atlanta when you go to the ballpark.
Don’t get me wrong with all this ranting I’m doing, I am a big fan of Turner Field and the job that the Braves do in making it fan-friendly. But we as a city still do not feel like we ‘own’ the Braves. We’re still fair-weather fans ready to jump ship at the first 3-game losing streak. Building a neighborhood right up to the ballpark would bridge the asphalt and apathy gap between Atlanta and its baseball team.
Arthur Blank or not, the person or group of people or corporation that buys this team has an opportunity to reunite Atlanta with its ballpark and bring them closer than ever before. Whoever owns the team has to make the fans feel like they own it. That’s the trick to a larger fan base, even when we eventually run out of winning seasons.