When a city or a community loses a major generator of economic activity, the void in the economy may take years, if ever, to fill. Closing a military base, an automotive plant or even the anchor tenant of a regional mall may have a devastating impact on the local economy.
The Atlanta Braves were a well-established anchor of economic activity for their previous home in Atlanta’s Summerhill neighborhood. The team’s move to Cobb County could have had a negative impact on the future development of Summerhill, but instead the move left room for other opportunities to flourish, sparking an economic revitalization we’re still witnessing.
A History of The Braves in Atlanta
The Braves had been in Atlanta’s Summerhill community since the spring of 1966. Up until the late 1950s, Summerhill had been a mixed income and diverse neighborhood with grocery stores, a movie theater, a library, hospital and a variety of mom-and-pop retail establishments. Beginning in the 1950s, urban renewal projects cleared the way for the interstate highways that make up the western boundary of the community and provided the land for Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, the original Atlanta home of the Braves. The hospital had already moved north of downtown Atlanta and urban renewal did away with two grocery stores, the movie theater and the library. One small grocery store and several small retailers remained.
In 1996, Atlanta was the host city of the Summer Olympics. The Olympic Stadium was built in the parking lot of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. There were plans to revitalize Summerhill’s retail corridor along Georgia Avenue and add new housing in the neighborhood. New “infill” housing units were built north of Georgia Avenue and little change occurred along Georgia Avenue. After the Olympics, the stadium was converted to a baseball park for the Braves. Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was demolished and became parking for Turner Field, the new home of the Braves. Nothing of any economic consequence happened in the neighborhood after 1996.
Opportunity for Georgia State University and Atlanta’s Summerhill Neighborhood
Georgia State University (GSU) began a football program in 2010. Their home football games were played at the Georgia Dome in downtown Atlanta. Except for basketball and volleyball, all the college’s other intercollegiate sports teams played in south Dekalb County, about seven miles from the main campus. The university had a goal of bringing all its teams closer to the downtown campus. When the Braves announced their move to the suburbs, Georgia State recognized that Turner Field and the parking lots surrounding the stadium presented them with a rare opportunity to achieve that goal. The university teamed up with Atlanta-based developer Carter to purchase the stadium and surrounding properties. As of 2021, GSU has converted the former baseball park into a football stadium. Their plans are to move their baseball and softball fields to the footprint of the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
Carter, along with its development partners, have developed or have planned a 300-unit multi-family apartment project with about 8,500 square feet of retail space and a Publix-anchored retail center. The retail strip along Georgia Avenue is being redeveloped with about 47,000 square feet of retail and creative loft space. The project also includes new student housing to accommodate 676 students, a 100-unit townhouse project, 120-room hotel and corporate offices. All these projects are in Phase I of a multiphase development project. As “painful” as the move of the Braves to Cobb County was for intown Atlanta baseball fans, the move was a home run for Georgia State, the City of Atlanta and the Summerhill neighborhood.
A Real Estate Home Run at The Battery Atlanta
In late 2013, the Atlanta Braves announced that they were moving to Cobb County.
Ten miles north of Summerhill, the Braves purchased about 60 acres of land at the intersection of I-75 and I-285 in Cobb County. The project, known as The Battery Atlanta, is modeled after the development LA Live adjacent to the Staples Arena, the home of the NBA Lakers and Clippers in Los Angeles. It is the site of the team’s new 41,000-seat ballpark.
In addition to the stadium, the Braves and their development partners have constructed 2 million square feet of mixed-use space, including a 4,000-seat concert venue, a 264-room Omni Hotel, a 142-room Aloft Hotel and office buildings housing Comcast’s regional headquarters and the Papa John’s national headquarters. Finally, there are three multifamily residential communities at The Battery Atlanta with a total of 531 units.
The Battery Atlanta received national and international exposure during the Braves’ recent World Series Championship winning season, highlighting the venue that was perfectly designed to accommodate the thousands of fans that attended the playoff games, the National League Championship games and the World Series.
I do think it is fair to say that the move to The Battery Atlanta was both a real estate home run for the Braves and a real estate home run for Georgia State, the Summerhill neighborhood and the City of Atlanta, and that doesn’t always happen in the world of commercial real estate.