World Series Win Shows The Braves' Daring Real Estate Bet At The Battery Paid Off
The Atlanta Braves clinched their first World Series win since 1995 in Houston last week, and when they brought the trophy back to Atlanta to celebrate, they spent a little time in Downtown Atlanta where the team played for decades before speeding away to their new home.
The celebratory parade reached its peak at The Battery at Truist Park, the mixed-use complex the Braves developed in suburban Cobb County and moved to in 2017, a controversial decision that has turned into a model that other sports franchises have sought to replicate in the years since.
Braves Development Co. CEO Mike Plant led the acquisition of the 30 undeveloped acres and spearheaded the development of 1.8M SF of commercial space around the 41,676-seat Truist Park (originally SunTrust Park). He said he watched with pride as more than 325,000 people came through the development during the first three World Series games in the park's history.
“We're a very different landlord. We're in it to win the World Series," Plant told Bisnow this week. “The No. 1 goal we say every year is win the World Series. If you win the World Series, everything else is going to float and grow and prosper.”
The development didn't just host games — fans swarmed its streets and shops when the Braves played on the road during the playoffs, including 18,000 who came to the Battery to watch the season's final game, a 7-0 thumping of the American League champion Houston Astros last Tuesday. The Braves expect roughly 10 million people will have visited the Battery this year, 2.3 million of whom had tickets to a game at Truist Park.
Liberty Media, which owns the Braves, faced bitter criticism when it decided in 2013 to move the team from Turner Field, a stadium that itself had only opened in 1997. At the time, the team was faced with the prospect of spending upward of $150M in renovations on Turner Field, Plant said, adding that he had been trying for nearly a decade to acquire land around the Downtown Atlanta stadium to develop mixed-use.
But after a meeting with then-Cobb County Commission Chairman Tim Lee, who died of cancer in 2019, the county agreed to provide $300M in Cobb taxpayer funds to help finance the construction of what would become The Battery at Truist Park without a referendum. Plant said if the financing would have had to go directly to the voters, the Braves would have backed out of talks early in the process.
“Anyone that tries to say, 'Oh, this would have happened anyway,' let's not forget that this property had been sitting here for 30 years," Plant said."But even if someone kind of figured it out, built some other offices ... that's a lot different than putting a professional Atlanta Braves Truist Park as your nucleus. That's the magic formula.”
The Braves and their partners paid $372M on top of the public funds to develop the project, partnering with some of Atlanta’s most prominent developers, including Pope & Land Enterprises for the office, Pollack Shores (now RangeWater) for the apartments and Fuqua Development for the retail, with the real estate brokerage firm JLL managing the overall project.
Wakefield Beasley, which designed heralded mixed-use project Avalon for North American Properties in nearby Alpharetta, was enlisted as the architect, and co-founder Lamar Wakefield said choosing the right partners was key to the Battery's success.
“I think [Plant] is a really good manager of people and projects,” said Wakefield, who is now senior vice president of design and architectural firm Nelson Worldwide, which acquired Wakefield Beasley in 2017.
The partnership has paid major dividends. When the Battery opened in 2017, the developers delivered the stadium; a 260-room Omni Hotel; three apartment buildings; a 295K SF office building occupied by Comcast named One Ballpark Center; another office building anchored by a Spaces coworking location, named Two Ballpark Center; and 260K SF of retail space almost fully leased to tenants like Wahlburgers, Terrapin Taproom/Fox Bros. BBQ, Goldberg’s Bagel & Deli and the Mizuno Experience Center.
The development team is wrapping up work on the $200M second phase, which includes an Aloft Hotel and Three Ballpark Center, leased to the North American headquarters of elevator maker Thyssenkrupp — along with the company's elevator testing tower, which is the tallest structure in Cobb County — and the incoming headquarters of Papa John's. In all, the Battery has more than 660K SF of office.
The Battery is part of the 27M SF Cumberland/Galleria submarket in Metro Atlanta, where Class-A office asking rents eclipsed $30 per SF for the first time ever in the third quarter of this year, according to Colliers International.
The halo effect of the Battery and Truist Park has led to other landlords in the Cumberland area using the proximity to the park in their marketing materials. Rubenstein Partners rebranded one nearby office park into Pennant Park in 2017.
While there is still some derision regarding the public-private arrangement Cobb officials entered into with the Braves, the deal has given the county an influx of tax revenues. The total property value of the Battery in 2020 stood at $587M, according to an April presentation given by the Braves organization to the Cobb County Board of Commissioners. Since 2015, the Battery has paid $10.7M in taxes to Cobb and another $14.8M to the county’s board of education.
Emory University Goizueta Business School economist and finance professor Tom Smith said he expects the economic impact from the three days of the World Series alone to be between $15M and $20M.
Liberty Media was feeling an improvement of operations at The Battery before the World Series. The company earned $222M in baseball revenue during the third quarter, including $12M in revenue primarily from rents at the Battery, according to Liberty Media’s earnings report. The Braves earned $6.5M per game for the 34 games during that period.
In the third quarter of 2019, the Braves earned $212M in baseball revenue, including $9M in revenues primarily from Battery rents. The impact of the World Series won't be disclosed in its finances until after the fourth quarter.
Even after the World Series, the win was still generating business for the Braves — while most major sports parades are confined to their cities' urban cores, like the Braves in 1995, this year, the team plotted a course that began in Downtown Atlanta, but ended at the Battery.
“Some would say we're going to finish in Centennial Park,” Plant said. "No. This is our home."
The hope for the businesses that have located around the Battery is winning begets winning.
It took three years for Puerto Rican sandwich shop El Super Pan to turn a quarterly profit at the Battery, owner Hector Santiago told Bisnow, but that finally changed in 2021, when sales one day alone hit $30K during the regular season. During games four and five on Saturday and Sunday, Santiago said his restaurant posted $50K each day.
“Come 2021, we really saw a change of more traffic. People just wanted to be out at that point,” he said. “ was the first time in three years in a quarter we didn’t lose money. For this year, it’s going to be amazing. Next year? Forget about it. I would say that energy is going to continue."
Emory’s Smith said the team needs to continue to have winning seasons to keep the momentum at the Battery.
“People have pretty short memories about these things. You're only as good as your last event,” Smith said. “If the Braves don’t put a good product on the field next year, people aren’t going to show up to relive the glory days.”
For now, that doesn’t appear likely for the 2022 Braves season. Season ticket sales are already higher than they were at this point last year as fans get excited at the thought of a title defense, Plant said.
Regardless of the Battery's ability to build on its success, the World Series cast a large spotlight on the Braves' trailblazing team-owned development. Even before the playoff run, Plant said he and his partners hosted professional sports teams from as far as Japan, Korea, Italy and China, asking their advice and hoping to learn from their experience owning and developing the Battery.
“There’s no real playbook in how to do this anywhere,” Plant said. “There was incredible risk.”
More championships will surely be celebrated in atmospheres like the Battery. Sports teams in the U.S. have a pipeline of 28M SF of non-stadium commercial real estate in planning or construction, Sportico reported this summer. That is more than double the 12M SF already in operation in the U.S.
Most recently, the San Diego Padres won approval for a $1.6B, 2M SF mixed-use project with an office component. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim owner Arte Moreno has agreed to buy Angel Stadium and 150 acres surrounding it from the city of Anaheim, with designs on an 8M SF megadevelopment, Sportico reports.
The latest team to take the suburban development plunge could be the NFL's Chicago Bears. The team is has signaled it is likely to leave its longtime home at Soldier Field and build a giant mixed-use complex in suburban Arlington Heights.
With the exposure of the World Series, Plant said he expects even more inquiries, although he didn't identify any teams that he has consulted. But Plant said he does offer one suggestion to the other owners, one familiar to those who have followed baseball in recent years: Team control is everything.
“Don’t ever lose control of this operation from the building phase and once you’re up and running,” Plant said he tells other team owners. “Do not lose control of your parking. You have to look those tenants in the eyes and say, ‘You will be OK.’”
The Braves maintain ownership of much of The Battery, including partnerships with the Omni and the Aloft hotels. The multifamily is owned by an outside party, but Plant said there are conditions and restrictions that all outside interests have to abide by, including building commercial developments within the Battery confines that would compete with what’s already there. Cortland's 2018 purchase of a 531-unit Battery apartment building for $156M ranked among the highest prices paid for a single apartment asset in Metro Atlanta at that point.
For the Braves, there is an added sense of accomplishment for winning the World Series after the MLB took the All-Star Game away from Atlanta this summer in protest of the state’s passage of its restrictive voting laws, which critics contend disenfranchise minority voters.
The All-Star Game is a major economic driver for the host city beyond the game itself: Upward of 10 days of activities and events surround it. That was business the Battery missed out on.
“It's not something we're boasting about. But yes, there is a satisfaction for all of us,“ Plant said. “We’ll get the All-Star Game back here. But if you ask any of us which one would you rather have, 100% the World Series.”
This week, the Braves are recovering from the celebratory hangover. The organization cleaned the property for nearly three days after the final game, including spending $50K on new landscaping damaged by the throngs of fans.
“People were standing everywhere, and that's fine,” he said. "We brought a lot of joy to the metro area."