May 21, 2018
The two new major league stadiums in Atlanta have now been in use for more than a year. These stadiums have benefited from significant tax payer funding, an investment justified by the projected benefits. So what has been the impact of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium and SunTrust Park?
Both stadiums were planned to be state of the art sports complexes, and they had similar budgets. Construction proved to be a long and tedious road for both. Mercedes-Benz emerged with the dubious “honor” of facing the greater difficulties, with construction delays leading to soccer games scheduled for mid-2017 being played elsewhere in Atlanta.
SunTrust Park sought to create a stadium anchored mixed use complex, complete with hotels, office buildings, apartment complexes, and street level retail. The main goal was to develop an underused section of the Cumberland/Galleria area of Atlanta. The project was funded by a joint public/private partnership between Liberty Media, the owners of the Braves, and the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum & Exhibit Hall Authority. The public side of this partnership, funded by Cobb County, contributed $421 million of the estimated $1.1 billion needed to complete the project. The stadium itself cost $672 million, a relative bargain in stadium terms. The rest of the costs was for “The Battery”, a vibrant and walkable district of stores and bars. The added tax revenue from these businesses, and year-round foot traffic, may well pay off for the district in the long run.
Further south in the City of Atlanta, the Mercedes-Benz stadium began taking shape in early 2014. While this was a stadium-only project, its proponents did not skimp on city-changing optimism. The total cost of the project was estimated to be $1.6 billion, with a modest $200 million contribution by the City of Atlanta in the form of stadium bonds. The remaining expenses were covered by a private partnership of investment banks, and Arthur Blank personally. The Mercedes-Benz Stadium is focused simply on the enjoyment of fans on game day.
As part of the philosophy behind the project, Arthur Blank recommitted to helping the English Avenue district, which lies west of the stadium. Included in this initiative are a new job training center, affordable housing for police officers, and new youth leadership programs. Another goal is to bring outside partners and team sponsors to support the development of the area. The stadium has brought renewed attention to the development of an area known as “the Gulch,” an underutilized section of downtown adjacent to the stadium. Should development occur here, Blank’s vision of the neighborhood may take one step closer to fruition.
Atlanta now has two contrasting approaches to the stadium/neighborhood relationship issue, and has not skimped on the cost of either. While it is still too early to tell if either will be successful, the early signs are very positive – just ask any Atlanta based Millennial.