The embarrassing new Braves ballpark is coming and no one was allowed to stop it

In which we also look for the next city or county to try something this brazen.

Amazing news out of Cobb County! The new Braves ballpark is a political shitstorm and a mockery of the democratic process. That's not the news. The news is just how transparent of a sham this all is. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

At a packed public meeting, county commissioners approved a series of seven legal agreements with the team, and several community agencies that will be involved in building, operating and paying for a new $622 million ballpark in the Cumberland Mall area. The meeting was over within two hours, and the commissioners approved the deals without questions or debate.

No debate. Wow, I didn't realize that everyone was so on board with ...

The meeting was dominated by supporters of the stadium who executed a strategy to shutout the voice of critics. They were lined up for the 12 speaking slots by 1:45 p.m., for the meeting that started at 7. They effectively snatched up all the speaking slots for the public comment portion of the meeting. A handful of critics were escorted from the room when it became clear early on they would not be allowed to speak and they approached the front of the room to ask the commission to create more speaking slots.

The whole process is unfathomable. A Deadspin commenter points us to the website of commissioner Bob Ott, whose first "core principle" is:

I have worked hard to bring citizen input into the decision-making process.

That's technically not the first thing on the page because there's a "Bringing the community into the decision-making process" header above it.

I want to watch the documentary about this mess. Then I want to watch the Aaron Sorkin show about it. Then I want to watch the Christopher Guest version. Then I want to listen to the Mastodon concept album about it, in which the commissioners are all golden chimeras, slain one by one. This is one of the great transparent civic boondoggles of our generation, and as someone mostly unaffected, I can't get enough.

This is the first complete travesty in stadium politics in several hundred days. The mayor of Miami thought long and hard about how to describe the new Marlins Park for a Sports Illustrated quote, and he settled on a wholly inappropriate description, only because the widely accepted words didn't have enough zip for his tastes. The private money that was supposed to reimburse some of the public money spent on Yankee Stadium never showed up.

It turns out that using public money for gifts to private corporations and wealthy individuals rarely works out well. People are starting to get hip to this, which is why Braves president John Schuerholz admitted plans for the new Braves park had to be formulated in secret, lest the public get upset their tax money going to corporate welfare.

Let's ask SB Nation's Atlanta contingent what they think.

Jason Kirk

For too long, Cobb County has been the part of Metro Atlanta that would prefer to be part of 1890s Metro Atlanta. The area has for decades carried on a forced rivalry with the likewise far-from-perfect City of Atlanta. Cobb's older voters and monochromatic leadership have long refused to link the county with Atlanta's mass transit system, with barely coded language serving as the official explanation even in 2013 (see Joe Dendy's statement here).

So the chance to get one over on the City and bribe away a civic institution, by any means necessary? The ultimate victory for those who've found themselves in charge, even if it means borrowing $400 million for something we don't need, without a sufficient public process, and without any logistical solutions.

That's one way of thinking of Cobb.

The other is that within the next decade or so, the Braves' new neighborhood will be about as diverse as Atlanta itself, with the rest of the county following. Today, you have to go looking for a Confederate flag in order to spot one.This old man's store in Cobb County is three miles away from a large, growing, racially diverse university. Only the latter will continue on its current course indefinitely.

The City government failed the Braves over the years, but that doesn't make Cobb's deal a good one for its residents. If Braves fans like the new area better and the team makes more money, those also do not make the government's forceful decision the right one. I hope that one day the Braves move is seen as one of several things that united the metro's two most at-odds regions. But that's a long road that moves slowly.

This isn't about the soul of Atlanta being taken away -- most Braves fans live north of the city proper, the Braves are more of a Georgian team or even Southern team than an Atlantan team, many Braves fans didn't like Turner Field's surroundings, and the Falcons are much closer to being the city's representative -- but rather about Cobb asserting itself as some sort of nearby alternative to Atlanta. Winning a battle in a fading rivalry, whatever the cost.

Spencer Hall

The Atlanta Braves at one point, like a lot of sports franchises, was owned locally and operated with some respect towards an understanding of place, people, and humanity. Not a lot of humanity, mind you: it was owned by Ted Turner, who is his own breed of alien. He was, though, an alien who cared to look something like a person when it suited him.

The Braves brand currently call Liberty Media their owners. It doesn't matter who Liberty Media is, because they are nothing but faceless capital on the hoof. Capital does not see faces, people, communities, or consequences. It runs downhill along the path of least resistance toward profit, and seeks to expend as little energy as it can on the way to that sweet reservoir of imagined cash.

The thing offering least resistance in this case is the government of Cobb County, once-sober decision makers of a conservative bent who became gelatinous, venal vassals to the demands of the Braves in offering up $392 million in public money a year after cutting 186 teaching positions and forcing five days of unpaid furlough on its teachers. Liberty Media does not live here, pay anything in substantive taxes, and holds no office or public profile or stake in the community beyond capital. It is a giant ghost fielding a sports team that just managed to railroad a half year's worth of operating budget into their own pockets because....well, because Cobb County is apparently a steep, frictionless grade to be run over now downhilll on your way to somewhere else with more money, and more easily greased wheels.

This isn't even about being bitter about losing the Braves, or watching a pretty decent place to raise your kids turn into a giggling schoolchild over the bait of a 19th century sports team, or noting the various rollbacks of the original plan to get the Braves point-by-point. (The retail development promised in the original deal is not even guaranteed, and could never happen.) It's about breaking your spine in the long bend backwards for faceless capital, which always leaves for newer, easier lows, and doing so in a unanimous vote scheduled the first day after a three day weekend.

It's about how things at their worst usually tend to end down here: with the opposed being led off by florid, thick-necked deputies working in service of silence and cash.

P.S. Fuck the Braves.

★★★

Now that you're caught up with all this fun, let's switch topics just a bit and look at a list of all 30 ballparks from oldest to newest and predict when the next publicly financed ballpark boondoggle is going to take place. Let's find the next Atlanta.

Fenway Park 1912
Wrigley Field 1914
Dodger Stadium 1962
Angel Stadium of Anaheim 1966
O.co Coliseum 1966
Kauffman Stadium 1973
Rogers Centre 1989
Tropicana Field 1990
U.S. Cellular Field 1991
Oriole Park at Camden Yards 1992
Globe Life Park in Arlington 1994
Progressive Field 1994
Coors Field 1995
Turner Field 1996
Chase Field 1998
Safeco Field 1999
AT&T Park 2000
Comerica Park 2000
Minute Maid Park 2000
Miller Park 2001
PNC Park 2001
Great American Ball Park 2003
Citizens Bank Park 2004
Petco Park 2004
Busch Stadium 2006
Nationals Park 2008
Citi Field 2009
Yankee Stadium 2009
Target Field 2010
Marlins Park 2012

The first thing you should note is that Tropicana Field is the eighth-oldest ballpark in the majors. I mean, it doesn't look new and shiny, but it seems like the Rays just came into the league. Or to put it another way, there are seven ballparks older than Jason Heyward. You have your complaints about Bud Selig. The owners do not. Baseball has been on a decades-long roll with this stuff.

You can eliminate more than 80 percent of the ballparks up there when looking for something that could be immediately replaced. Of course, I would have put Turner Field on such a list about two months ago, so this is subject to change, but there are 21 newer, widely respected ballparks up there (including Waffle House Field). There are three classics that will be renovated for the next 100 years before they're razed (Fenway, Wrigley, Dodger). That's 24 municipalities that are unlikely to become the next Cobb County.

The remaining six:

Oakland

If the City of Oakland tried to pull what Cobb County did, about six dozen different civic groups would join up on the street, "Beat It"-style, as they walked toward City Hall, dancing and snapping their fingers, ready to knife the people responsible. There isn't enough public money in Oakland to fix dilapidated schools or keep police officers on a force that can probably use a lot more police officers. Alameda County acquiesced to all sorts of ridiculous requests to get the Raiders back in Oakland, and they ended up with a ruined baseball stadium and public revulsion. That's not happening again. Nothing close to that is happening again.

There could still be a stadium in Oakland, but it would take so much private money that it would make AT&T Park look like a publically financed ballpark in comparison.

Tampa/St. Petersburg

The latest vision for a new ballpark for the Rays is beautiful. It's also completely unlikely to happen unless the Rays pay for it themselves, as this has been going on for almost a decade. There was a deal in place to have a new ballpark by 2012 before the city and county pulled out. There's still hope that hotel/car rental taxes and tax credits earmarked for low-income communities can make up some of the gap, but if there were a way to shove a spoonful of stadium into the taxpayers' mouth, it would have been done by now.

Kansas City

Everyone loves Kauffman, for the most part. Total results for "replacing Kauffman Stadium" on Google: four. There was some talk in the early part of the millennium, during the retro ballpark craze, but it didn't last long.

Anaheim

A strong contender. The renovations have helped the multi-purpose stadium feel like a ballpark, but it's the fourth-oldest ballpark in baseball, and it's in an affluent area. The Angels are in the middle of lease negotiations with the City of Anaheim, as their current lease ends in 2016. The Angels aren't going to use Las Vegas or Portland as leverage, but they certainly can pit different Southern California cities against each other. No one likes my Oxnard Angels idea, so I'll just leave it here one last time ...

Chicago

I would probably need to take a couple grad-level classes to understand Chicago politics, so I'll defer to the masses here, but I'd be stunned if public money went to a White Sox park in the next 20 or 30 years. Even in the shady underworld of Chicago's municipal politics, this would seem especially unlikely. Consider that the Braves' new deal has to do with a nearby county poaching the team to enhance its profile. Now picture the White Sox moving out of Chicago. Not going to happen.

Toronto

Their mayor seems like a guy who can get things done, but Rogers Communications already owns Rogers Centre, so it would need to be a sweet, sweet deal to get them out of there soon. Cities and counties aren't handing out sweet, sweet deals at the moment.

Unless you're talking about Cobb County. There's a chance that the Angels can wrest some serious public money from a city desperate to establish themselves in the Orange County hierarchy, and there's a chance that we're underestimating Tampa/St. Pete politics. But the likeliest scenario is that this is the last ballpark boondoggle we're going to see for a long, long time.

Appreciate it now. This is the last of a dying, formidable breed that once lumbered around these lands in great numbers. Also, I'm going to delete every comment that disagrees with anything in this article to keep the spirit of Cobb County intact.

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