Business success of Braves stadium bodes well for GreenJackets

In the Franza family, we have started a recent tradition of taking in an Atlanta Braves home game on Father’s Day weekend, assuming the Braves are in town. In 2015, we saw the Braves play at Turner Field on Father’s Day, and this year we went to the game the day before Father’s Day. The Braves won an exciting game in extra innings on a walk-off hit in the 10th inning after tying the game in the ninth.

 

Despite the excitement of the game, our conversation on the way home had nothing to do with the game itself. Rather, we talked about the new home of the Braves, SunTrust Park, and the adjacent mixed-use development known as The Battery Atlanta.

I know what you are thinking. The transplant from Metro Atlanta is going to tell Augusta and the CRSA how great metro Atlanta is. Full disclosure: I lived most of the past 15 years, and 22 of the past 30 years, in Cobb County, and my family is still living there until my youngest daughter (named Augusta!) finishes high school in May 2018.

Will I tell you how great Atlanta is? Yes and no. I will tell you how great SunTrust Park and The Battery Atlanta are, but I also will tell you why it portends great things for Augusta and the CRSA.

SunTrust Park itself is a great place to watch a baseball game. I don’t think there is bad seat in the house, and despite being on the fourth level we felt like we were right on top of the action. In addition, there are a number of different food options in the stadium and flat screens all around the concourse so that you could keep up with the game when you visit concession stands. Overall, the game experience at SunTrust Park is fantastic.

However, since this is a business column, we should focus on the business element of not just the ballpark, but its surrounding development.

For those of you who have attended Braves games in the past, either at Turner Field or Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, you know that there was not much beyond the stadium to occupy any time there before and after the game. You basically showed up for the game and left immediately afterward.

The Battery Atlanta has significantly changed the ballgame experience and economic growth around it.

When Cobb County decided to invest a significant amount of taxpayer dollars to convince the Braves to move from Atlanta, there was much criticism about the limited potential return on investment for the county. Based on my experience June 17, that criticism might be misguided. The Battery Atlanta has multiple dining options; shopping experiences; work spaces (Comcast regional headquarters, to name one); and entertainment, housing and hotels (Omni International opening in early 2018) on the way.

The amount of activity (and spending!) going on before and after the game translates into an economic boon for the area. For example, when we tried to grab some barbecue at the Terrapin Ale House two hours before the game, there was an almost two-hour wait to get in. While I realize some may be there for the novelty of the experience, I think people want to come for more than just the game, and economic returns so far are substantial.

I know, you’re still asking: What does this have to do with Augusta and the CSRA? Well, even though this past week’s highlight was Monday’s groundbreaking for the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center, we had another important groundbreaking in the area May 25. On that day, ground was broken for the new Augusta GreenJackets baseball stadium at Riverside Village at Hammond’s Ferry in North Augusta.

Fortunately, this stadium is being built with the same foresight as SunTrust Park/The Battery Atlanta. In addition to the ballpark, a hotel and conference center, apartment living, senior living, retail, restaurants and Class-A office space all are planned adjacent to the stadium itself.

After seeing the initial success in Cobb County, I expect similar results for the CSRA in North Augusta. While people will come for the baseball game, they will stay for shopping, dining and other entertainment. Some will choose to live and work there, attracted by the stimulating social and economic environment available not just during baseball season, but throughout the year.

At the end of my last column, I indicated that the state of Georgia is “swinging for the fences” with its investment in the GCITC. That metaphor is even more appropriate for the ballpark development in North Augusta since we are dealing with baseball. I think there is a good chance the new Greenjackets ballpark and mixed-use development will be a home run, and another shining light on the CSRA’s landscape.

The writer is dean of Augusta University’s James M. Hull College of Business. Reach him at rfranza@augusta.edu.

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