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The stadium effect

What happens when your neighbor is a multimillion dollar shrine to sports



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FALCONS FATHER: Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank has pledged to help boost surrounding neighborhoods with the new stadium. - JOEFF DAVIS/CL FILE
  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • FALCONS FATHER: Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank has pledged to help boost surrounding neighborhoods with the new stadium.

"We want to create a revenue stream that will bring transformation to both the community and the people of the community," Motley says. "We want to transform that community into what we believe God wants it to be: multiracial, multicolored, multicultural, which reflects what's going on in Atlanta and in downtown's college and corporate buildings."

Newman, the retired GSU professor and urban affairs expert, relays a story often told by former United Nations Ambassador and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, who helped win support for — and boost the communities surrounding — Lakewood Amphitheatre by helping local out-of-work residents start businesses that worked with the music venue. For example, veterans partnered and formed a firm that provided security at the amphitheater. Single mothers trying to raise children on welfare started a small concessions business and worked at Lakewood selling cotton candy, sodas, and other items.

"Eventually everyone in the neighborhood was invested in the success of Lakewood," he says. "The less people feel like it's something being done to them, it's something being done with them."

It's also possible, local urban designers and planners say, to stitch a stadium into the fabric of auto-oriented, tailgate-addicted Atlanta that could engage people and surrounding neighborhoods — rather than simply dropping a monolith on downtown, A-bomb style, killing all businesses in a one-mile radius.

As conversations with the Falcons move forward about a new facility that could alter the city's landscape, and the Braves making clear they're not leaving Turner Field any time soon, there are signs that some of residents' concerns are landing on the radars of top officials.

In 2010, a group of Georgia Tech students conducted a one-year design studio — which they presented to Invest Atlanta, the city's economic development arm — looking at how to break up Turner Field's mammoth parking lots into small, walkable blocks that could handle a variety of mixed-use possibilities. Think Wrigley Field in Chicago, Camden Yards in Baltimore, or, even better, San Diego's Petco Park, considered the gem of new ballparks. Parking could be used in decks on the periphery, perhaps even in the barren space between the stadium and the interstate.

Atlanta City Councilwoman Carla Smith, the area's councilwoman, has high hopes that the redevelopment plan the neighborhoods created and approved in 2006, would pave the way for such mixed-use redevelopment to take place and make the area immediately next to Turner Field not just a place to visit for ball games, but possibly to live. "You could invite people over and hang out on your porch and listen to the game," she says, almost giddy with excitement. "It'd be fun."

It'd also be a better experience for Braves fans who, instead of walking though a parking lot, could first cross a park featuring the baseball diamond where Hank Aaron made history. Or they could opt to spread out a blanket in an adjacent public green space nearby, and watch the game on a massive big screen.

Mike Plant, the executive vice president of the Atlanta Braves business operations who says the team has been a part of "a lot of conversations" about improving the area in such a way, played coy when asked about the future of the property surrounding Turner Field.

"Look at San Diego, Denver, Houston," he says. "Those were challenged areas. And a stadium came in and became the nucleus for some pretty interesting and attractive development. It's not rocket science. It's a little bit timing and finance. ... Stay tuned."

But football stadiums, which tend to be stand-alone behemoths, are different beasts. How much Falcons and GWCC officials will take surrounding neighborhoods into account when they design the stadium remains to be seen. Numerous sources tell CL that neighborhood residents have not been privy to conversations regarding the stadium nor have GWCC or Falcons officials visited community meetings. Residents did submit a list of the stadiums' "potential impacts," including parking, vandalism, and business development, to GWCC officials late last year.

In an interview with CL, Mayor Kasim Reed says he — and, based on his conversations with the team, the Falcons as well — want the stadium to "be a vibrant and real part of the community."

"We have to be heavily focused on strengthening the neighborhoods around what I believe will be an iconic stadium and another jewel in the crown of the city. But we have to really connect neighborhoods to the opportunity that will be created by this investment."

He adds: "There's a real feeling that those neighborhoods are disconnected from everything that's on the eastside of Northside Drive. As we make these infrastructure improvements, I want people who live in those neighborhoods to feel like they're a part of this effort."

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