Plans for Braves complex begin to take shape

Think Disney World on the Chattahoochee — with a baseball stadium instead of rides, plus a bit of Atlantic Station thrown in.

The plans for the proposed Braves stadium complex in Cobb County came into clearer view Friday after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained details of the planning for the site and surrounding area from people associated with the project. The plans still offer no solution to the area’s formidable highway congestion.

They do, however, feature golf-cart-like trains like Disney’s circulating through the area, a soaring pedestrian bridge over I-285 to carry them, and a grand walkway flanked by new local shops and restaurants. Government officials emphasized that nothing is final and called it a “working plan.”

The whole plan is still subject to, at least, a vote by the Cobb County Commission on Nov. 26.

How to get people from their homes to the stadium gate remains one of the biggest problems with the proposed location, featuring a site that is smaller than Turner Field’s in an area congested with traffic. The plan allocates limited new transportation funding to deal with the added traffic, and government and Braves officials have not yet settled on what to build using it.

But once fans manage to reach the area, the vision aims to turn the transportation problem into an advantage. People would need to get out of their cars, walk around and start spending.

The Braves will only build perhaps 6,000 parking spaces at the stadium — 2,000 under the stadium, likely preferred parking — and perhaps 4,000 in a parking deck. For the rest, “there are north of 50,000 parking spaces already right around there that are not used at night,” said Tad Leithead, chairman of the Cumberland Community Improvement District, which will help fund the plan.

“What the Braves are trying to do is create an environment where they don’t have to build much parking but can use parking that’s already nearby,” Leithead said.

People could drive from home to a parking space in, for example, the Cobb Galleria Center. Then they could walk or be ferried by the “circulator” trams over I-285, across the pedestrian bridge to the complex.

And once they get to the complex, they wouldn’t be dropped off at the stadium gate. They would be at one end of a long pedestrian-only boulevard with hints of Atlantic Station: restaurants, shops, mixed development.

At the other end of the boulevard, the stadium. All they have to do to get there is walk the promenade, passing all those cash registers.

People staying at any of the hotels in the area of the district could also get ferried there, Leithead said. Or to the Cobb Energy Center one night, if they want to make a weekend of it.

“We think the return on investment here is magnificent,” Leithead said.

Cobb County Commission Chairman Tim Lee was also enthusiastic.

“It’s going to be transformational in the way people get moved around that community,” Lee said.

Much remains incomplete. The county and the district together are committing $24 million toward transportation improvements that were not already in the region’s budget. The pedestrian bridge will take up $3.5 million. Other desires, such as a dedicated ramp from the coming Northwest Corridor express lanes on I-75, could eat up the balance with lightning speed.

The AJC on Friday obtained a draft transportation plan drawn up by Cobb County, but in listing mostly projects that are already scheduled, it only serves to emphasize how much is yet to be planned.

Both Lee and Leithead said they are open to going back to the well in the future to request more transportation funding if the right transportation plan arises. Neither mentioned more tax increases.

“I realize there’s a lot of traffic in that area now, and I realize the Braves are going to add in the mix,” Leithead said. “But we’ve got three years and beyond” to come up with solutions.

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