By the time some 40,000 fans arrive at SunTrust Park and The Battery for opening day April 14, most evidence of the scramble to complete the billion dollar project will be gone or hidden from view.
About half of the restaurants and stores that have announced partnerships with the team are expected to be open and operational, including the ones closest to the stadium, with the rest opening over the coming year.
The success or failure of the ballpark and The Battery, an adjacent mixed-use development owned by the team, could have far-reaching consequences for Cobb, which contributed more than $400 million public dollars for stadium construction and supporting infrastructure. Even critics of the stadium deal, including Chairman Mike Boyce, who was elected on a wave of resentment over the lack of public input, say it can’t afford to flop.
“We’re very optimistic because we had a very successful soft opening last Friday,” he said, referring to the Braves exhibition game against the New York Yankees. That event was attended by 20,000 season ticket holders—about half the number expected to turn out for the first regular season game.
Kendra Power has been on site for about three weeks. She manages new openings for the restaurant chain Yard House and is preparing the new branch on the plaza outside the stadium.
“We were open but around us was cranes and forklifts and a dirt road and I was like ‘Man, I don’t know how they’re going to get this place up and going,’” she said. “They were working around the clock to power wash everything, finishing paving roads, getting road signs up, and so Friday it looked great.
“As I look around right now it looks ready to go but three weeks ago, it was a construction zone.”
Power said her company likes to be near “event-driven” locations like SunTrust and Fenway Park in Boston, where Yard House opened several years ago. She expressed confidence The Battery will draw enough of a crowd on non-game days to sustain the growing stable of restaurants and stores there.
A spokesperson for the Braves said The Battery will feature approximately 60 retail, dining and performance venues upon completion, but that the team does not comment on occupancy rates or the status of deals.
The Battery also includes apartments. The first 100 of more than 500 units are already available for rent.
Store owners optimistic, but traffic prompts concerns
George Tingley, an executive with Tomahawk Harley-Davidson, which is opening a store in The Battery, called the stadium project a “beautiful space,” notwithstanding some light construction.
“It’s actually kind of exciting to see guys working off in the corners on different stuff,” he said. “Obviously there is still some work being done but I don’t think that’s going to take away from what’s going to be a really exciting game.”
Monali Patel operates a Haagen-Dazs franchise on Cobb Parkway nearby and is opening another in The Battery. She is planning to be serving scoops on opening day.
“We’re excited to be in that development—a little bit nervous,” she said. “We don’t know what to expect as far as the flow.”
Patel said most small business owners in the area outside The Battery think the stadium will help them by bringing in big crowds for events, but there’s also concern that the traffic may deter some patrons.
“It’s going to be good overall but I think we might end up losing some of the local, regular customers because of the traffic, or the expected traffic,” she said, referring to her other franchise nearby.
The Braves and the county say they are working together to ensure traffic runs smoothly, with more than 15,000 parking spaces and three pedestrian bridges that will all be open for the first game to help fans arrive safely.
“On the outside, we’re 98 percent there, and the stuff that we haven’t done is cosmetic,” said Chairman Boyce. “On the inside, the stadium is ready to go.”
Commissioner Bob Ott said he thinks traffic will be fine, pointing to the soft opening exhibition game. As for ongoing construction, he said that will only take place in between events.
“They have cleaned up the area around the stadium and the Battery so I think it will be good,” Ott said.