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Unexpected Uber Demand Forced Braves To Make Changes At SunTrust Park

It turns out the nightmare facing attendees of The Battery at SunTrust Park wasn't traffic. It was Uber.

SunTrust Park The Battery Braves Atlanta
Opening day at SunTrust Park in Atlanta

“We didn't know there was going to be thousands and thousands of pickups and drop-offs a night using Uber,” Atlanta Braves President Mike Plant told Bisnow.

Early last year, the Atlanta Braves announced the franchise formed a partnership with Uber and navigation app Waze, with Waze integrating its program into the Braves ticketing app. It was part of a more-than-$1B infrastructure program to facilitate the crowds heading to Braves home games at the new stadium in suburban Cobb County.

Before the stadium opened, the focus of public concern was almost entirely on the perception that games would only exacerbate traffic in an area of Metro Atlanta that already sees logjams during rush hour. The Braves and public officials touted not only the various projects — including a new pedestrian bridge — but that there were more than 15 ways in and out of the area.

In reality, the traffic impact has been minimal, officials said. The problem they discovered that first year of operations was the Uber response was disjointed, with not enough curb space to handle the demand.

Tad Leithead Cumberland CID
Cumberland CID Chairman Tad Leithead

“The first year, the impact of Uber, the usage of Uber, was so far beyond what they had expected that they didn't have a good plan for managing it,” Cumberland Community Improvement District Executive Director Tad Leithead said. “They had to totally rethink their approach to Uber.”

Leithead and Plant will be reflecting on SunTrust Park's impact on the submarket at Bisnow's Future of Cumberland event next week.

The answer for the 2018 baseball season: Widen portions of the sidewalk along Windy Ridge Parkway, one of the critical arteries that feed into the massive Battery mixed-use complex, to accommodate many more people awaiting their Uber pickup. The Braves also designated specific spots along the sidewalk where Uber drivers are able to tell their patrons specifically where to meet them.

Uber has become a key way that Braves patrons — especially millennials — have been attending not only Braves games at the stadium but also just milling about The Battery, even on non-game days, Leithead said.

Calls to Uber over demand data during game days were not returned as of press time.

Cobb County Commission Chairman Mike Boyce won election by defeating former Chairman Tim Lee, thanks to some voters expressing frustration that Lee negotiated the Braves deal in secret and without a voter referendum over the Braves' move from Downtown Atlanta to Cobb. Even Boyce concedes that The Battery at SunTrust Park is working as planned.

“Everything went right,” Boyce said. “[It] all worked better than advertised. The parking lot situation worked like a charm. If there we ever a model for a public-private partnership,” this is it, he said.

Not everything else has gone without a hitch for the county. Cobb raised $376M in bond funding — generating more than $20M a year — to help pay for the new stadium complex and related infrastructure work. That has, in part, led to the county projecting a budget deficit of between $30M and $55M, forcing county officials to use $21M from a rainy-day fund to plug a 2018 budget hole, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Even though revenues from The Battery at SunTrust Park and the Braves are exceeding expectations, Cobb County Finance Director Bill Volckmann previously told the AJC that the revenues were “not going to be a windfall. It’s not going to fix all the county’s problems. Outside the millage rate, there’s not a revenue source that would cover the gap.”

Braves President Mike Plant

The Braves made other tweaks to the stadium leading up to this baseball season. The team added another $2M kitchen to the Delta Club to accommodate larger-than-anticipated demand, Plant said, and some of the concession stands were shifted.

The Braves also converted some seats to 16 more four-top, outdoor tables, serviced by the Delta Club, that overlook the ball field. The added diners are getting more entertainment than in the stadium's debut season: the Braves are in first place in National League East behind one of baseball's most exciting young teams

“When you start winning, winning is an infection,” Plant said. 

Hear more from Plant and Leithead, as well as Childress Klein partner Connie Engel, Pope & Land Managing Director Jennifer Koontz, Mill Creek Residential Managing Director Harvey Wadsworth and Hamilton Zanze & Co. Managing Director David Nelson at the Future of Cumberland, 7:30 a.m., Thursday, May 10, at the Atlanta Marriott Northwest at Galleria.