In the summer of 1996 as an eight year old boy, I was privileged to venture into downtown Atlanta during the Summer Olympic Games. I was amazed at my firsthand sight of the many sporting arenas, housing for international athletes, hotels and other buildings that were built in anticipation for the summer games. At that time I was not aware of the amount of money that was being spent for construction, security, planning and promotions by the city of Atlanta and other private enterprises to stage this worldwide event.
In anticipation for the Games, the city of Atlanta spent $209 million alone on the building of Olympic Stadium, an 85,000 seat stadium that held track and field events and the opening and closing ceremonies of the games. At the conclusion of the Olympics about 30,000 seats were removed from the stadium so that it could be converted into a baseball field, which was a more viable use of the venue. The renovated baseball stadium was renamed Turner Field and became the new home of the Atlanta Braves for the start of the 1997 season.
Since its completion, Turner Field has hosted 81 games each summer for the relatively successful Atlanta Braves and their passionate fan base. At only 17 years old, Turner Field is still newer than 14 of the other 29 ball parks used in Major League Baseball. It is still fully operational and relatively new but the Atlanta Braves are not pleased with the venue. On November 11 of this year, the Atlanta Braves announced that they had partnered with nearby Cobb County, Georgia for the building of a new baseball stadium, set to cost $672 million, of which $450 million is to be publicly financed by the county.
Atlanta’s stadium saga is just one example of municipalities that face the debate of the benefits of publicly financed stadiums. Proponents of them promise an increase in public revenue for the city in the form conventions, sporting events, jobs and retail shopping, but years of outside research has proven to be inconclusive on the economic impact of such projects. In 2017, 20 years after the completion of the once-proud stadium, the city of Atlanta will demolish Turner Field and use the land for another project.
Publicly Financed Stadiums are a risky bet for municipalities that could use the same funds for other more noble investments such as infrastructure improvements and education. Ironically Cobb County is the same county that is currently facing a $78 million deficit in its school system but is willing to fund $450 million on a baseball field. Time will tell if the diversion of funds for education towards a new stadium will be a wise investment for the community of Cobb County.