Access is new park’s biggest issue

rseibel@macon.comMay 15, 2014 

Braves Stadium Baseball

This artist rendering provided by the Atlanta Braves shows the team’s proposed new ballpark and mixed-use development design in Cobb County. The stadium is scheduled to open in 2017, replacing Turner Field.

BEN GRAY — AP

Let’s make one thing clear about the Atlanta Braves’ move out of Turner Field. Team ownership was justified in taking the team out of that stadium.

The vision for Turner Field was to have a neighborhood grow up around the stadium. The goal was to have the neighborhood south of downtown develop into a place where people would want to hang out before or after games.

Instead, there’s blight. And who can blame the Braves for not wanting to continue to call that neighborhood home, considering the area’s politicians -- and not the team or other interested businesses -- are calling the shots when it comes to developing (or, in this case, not developing) that neighborhood?

With the Turner Field lease up at the end of the 2016 season, the Braves decided to go find a better neighborhood in which to play. Considering what little has been done to improve the neighborhood around Turner Field, rightfully so. Atlanta city leaders can save some face by helping Georgia State’s athletics programs move to the Turner Field site, but the Braves’ time at that site has passed.

Which brings us to site selection for the new Braves stadium.

If the Braves wanted as many eyeballs as possible on the mixed-use development they are building in the Cumberland neighborhood, they couldn’t have picked a better spot. The Interstate 75/I-285 connection on the northwest side of the Perimeter is one of the busiest parts of the metro area. In a way, I’m surprised the spot hadn’t already been claimed by office park sprawl.

Here’s the rub: Will Cumberland -- and Cobb County in general -- be able to absorb all of the traffic the Braves will bring?

Team officials said 6,000 parking spots will be available within the stadium development. That won’t be enough, although plans to incorporate other facilities nearby will increase the number of spots available.

What won’t be available, however, will be a connection to MARTA’s rail network. And this is where some of the math for the new ballpark doesn’t quite add up.

These days, fans headed to Turner Field can use MARTA rail to get to the ballpark, albeit in a convoluted manner. The trip to Turner Field involves either a shuttle bus from the Five Points station (not an entirely bad setup, although a walk through the failing Underground Atlanta project is a bit depressing) or a roughly 1-mile walk from the Georgia State station. There will be no such luxury with the new ballpark site, however, as the Cumberland area has long been the biggest hole in the MARTA rail system inside the Perimeter.

Lacking rail, the next best way to handle the potential traffic crush would be a centralized park-and-ride system. And that’s the big question as this project moves forward.

Getting buses to roll in Cobb County shouldn’t be a problem, as the Braves have expressed an interest in working with Cobb County Transit to develop a shuttle bus network to connect Cumberland Mall and the Cobb County Galleria to the ballpark. To truly cut down on traffic issues, however, there will need to be ways to get to the park from other parts of the Atlanta metro area -- and beyond -- without having to drive into Cumberland.

Typical of the way transportation issues are handled in this state, unfortunately, there haven’t been any plans announced so far for mass transit connections to the Braves’ new stadium from outside of Cobb County. Considering the often rocky history between MARTA and Cobb County, it wouldn’t be surprising if MARTA decides not to play ball with the Braves on the new stadium.

Right now, the biggest fear regarding this project is the potential for massive traffic jams. And while we have heard bits and pieces of plans to keep things running in the neighborhood surrounding the ballpark, we still don’t know how we’re going to get into the neighborhood to begin with.

That’s the one question we need the Braves and Cobb County to answer.

Contact Ron Seibel at 744-4222 or rseibel@macon.com

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