Another redevelopment opportunity came unbidden late in 2013 when the Atlanta Braves shocked the city by announcing that in 2017 the professional baseball team planned to desert downtown’s Turner Field in favor of a new stadium in the Cobb County suburbs to the north. Georgia State University (GSU), in conjunction with private developers, proposed buying Turner Field and the surrounding parking lots in order to build a $300 million mixed-use complex there. GSU, which had begun as a small commuter school, had grown dramatically in the last two decades in the downtown area, and it had long sought a real campus. The university wanted to convert the stadium for its own football, soccer, and track-and-field teams as well as building a new baseball park, student housing, shops, restaurants, a grocery store, and other homes and apartments. “The walkable concept would connect neighborhoods cut off from the city core by car-choked freeways and a sea of parking lots,” a reporter noted, but the surrounding poor black neighborhoods remained wary.
In the meantime, Home Depot billionaire Arthur Blank wanted to build a new stadium for his Atlanta Falcons football team to replace the Georgia Dome, built in 1992 as the largest cable-supported dome stadium on earth. But that was not enough for Blank, who wanted to tear it down and build a bigger, better stadium with a retractable roof next door, to cost well over a billion dollars. The city went along with the idea, partially funding it. In 2014 construction began on the massive Mercedes-Benz Stadium (the car company having purchased the branding rights).
Despite the popularity of sports teams, stadiums usually generate little in the way of regional economic benefit. They bring temporary crowds together to spend money at concessions, but fans flee the neighborhoods after the game. Indeed, the communities of Vine City and English City, near the Dome, were among the poorest in the city. The Blank Foundation promised to set aside $15 million to help those local neighborhoods, and the city matched it, but it remained to be seen what the relatively small amount of money would do. These neighborhoods, within a mile of the BeltLine, were presentative of the troubled Atlanta westside.
Another huge piece of real estate virtually fell into Reed’s lap when the U. S. military decommissioned Fort McPherson in southwest Atlanta, only a few miles from the planned BeltLine. The city acquired the 488-acre site in 2006. The Great Recession squashed initial plans for a mixed-use science/technology park, and Kasim Reed subsequently worked a privately arranged deal with filmmaker Tyler Perry, who in 2015 bought 331 prime acres for $30 million. Veteran Atlanta journalist Maria Saporta wrote passionately that if the deal with Perry could be stopped, “Fort McPherson can send off ripples of rebirth and redevelopment to communities that have been hungry for new investment for decades.” Instead, she predicted that Perry would create a “fort within a fort.”
Kasim Reed remained unmoved by such criticism. He took pride in all of his negotiations. “When I finish,” Reed boasted, “the city is going to have the strongest spine it’s ever had.” That might well be true, along with the BeltLine project surrounding that spine, but Reed’s deals had an ad hoc back-room-deal quality. In typical Atlanta fashion, there appeared to be no master plan.