By Andy Peters – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution | Tim Tucker – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The Atlanta Braves’ World Series championship boosted Chad Scearce’s car wash business with the power of a Jorge Soler home run.
Pristine Auto Spa, located in the Green parking deck at The Battery Atlanta, washes about 40 cars during a typical Braves game. A car wash comes with a paid parking space. During the playoffs, that number skyrocketed to 200 cars washed during each game.
Whether that momentum will continue next season, and especially in the coming weeks of cold weather and no baseball, is unknown. But Scearce is optimistic.
Next season, “as people jump on the Braves bandwagon, I think we’ll double our revenue,” Scearce said.
The World Series put The Battery in the spotlight like never before: three nights of prime-time television coverage on Fox plus countless highlights on cable TV and online video feeds, as well as social media posts and hundreds of news articles.
Plenty of business owners at The Battery are harboring the same thought as Scearce — will a World Series title mean a windfall when the Braves start play again next spring? Can The Battery become the sustainable, year-round attraction that its planners promised a year after a pandemic severely limited live events, including baseball?
The Braves in 2017 opened their own version of the Atlantic Station mixed-use development, a self-contained community of shops, bars, restaurants, apartments, office buildings, 264-room hotel and, of course, a Major League Baseball stadium. Cobb County taxpayers provided a $300 million subsidy to the stadium’s construction.
Since then, there has been debate over whether taxpayers are getting the return Cobb leaders promised. A 2018 economic impact study paid for by the Cobb County Chamber of Commerce estimated an $18.9 million positive impact annually for the county and its schools. J.C. Bradbury, an economist at Kennesaw State University, estimates the positive annual impact has only been $3 million.
Former Cobb commissioner Bob Ott says to date The Battery and stadium have brought 23,000 jobs to the area and $1 billion in investment. Bradbury says taxpayers are getting the short end of the stick while business owners inside The Battery, and especially the team and its owner, Liberty Media, are doing just fine. The Battery’s rental income generated $12 million in revenue in the three-month period that ended Sept. 30.
There’s also no evidence in other cities that a World Series victory will lead to a permanent improvement in the financial fortunes of nearby businesses, according to Bradbury.
What Braves executives say is priceless, though, is the newfound awareness of what The Battery has to offer, said Jeremy Strife, executive vice president of development for the Braves. Consider the effusive praise that Fox Sports play-by-play announcer Joe Buck gave to The Battery during the World Series broadcasts.
“What will really help was all the global media attention,” Strife said.
Not all media attention was positive. Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke, who visited during the National League Championship Series with the Dodgers, compared The Battery and Truist Park to a “sterile shopping mall.”
But many Battery merchants think the incessant attention can only be a good thing for business.
“We believe our tasting room and distillery … will see ongoing, transformational benefits from the Braves’ World Series win,” said Jim Chasteen, CEO of whiskey maker ASW, which operates a bar inside The Battery.
If anyone thought Truist Park was just a baseball stadium surrounded by parking lots, few people think that now, said Abe Schear, a commercial real estate attorney at Arnall Golden Gregory who advises retail tenants and landlords.
“Unquestionably, the Braves’ incredible run has enhanced the Battery brand, bringing people to the complex who had little idea of the interactive environment,” Schear said.
Winning a World Series typically provides a sustainable economic lift for teams, and the Braves expect their lift to be even stronger because of how long it had been, 26 years, since the organization last won one.
“There’s a carryover that goes for at least another season and in many cases lasts longer than that,” Braves CEO Derek Schiller said. “This has a chance to really catapult us to the next level in building an even bigger fan base and improving all of the ways in which we grow our business.”
The Battery was already doing well by several measures before the Braves’ playoff run.
Office buildings at The Battery are largely occupied, with Comcast and co-working provider Spaces the two largest tenants, according to real estate brokerage Avison Young. The new headquarters for Papa John’s pizza is coming soon, too.
But the Four Ballpark Center office building, which opened July 2020, is only half-full.
The Battery has leased about 90% of its retail space, Strife said. Many of the biggest retail tenants are restaurants and sports bars like the 35,000 square-foot Punch Bowl Social.
“You can count on one hand the number of available spaces,” Strife said.
The Battery’s residential component has been a hit, too. Apartment occupancy within a one-mile radius of The Battery rose from between 90% and 92% before the pandemic to a current rate of 95%, according to real estate data provider CoStar Group. Since January 2020, apartment rental rates have increased 25%.
Between now and 2026, the population within one mile of The Battery is projected to rise about 6.7% to 17,180, according to CoStar.
It’s a world away from what happened at Turner Field in the late 1990s and 2000s.
At the completion of the 1996 Olympic Games, when the Braves took over occupancy of the Olympic stadium, many predicted commercial development was just around the corner for the nearby Summerhill community.
That never happened, at least not until the Braves packed up and moved to Smyrna. Now Summerhill is teeming with a huge new apartment complex, new restaurants, a brewpub and a bakery that sells $7 fruit galettes.
Now the community around the Cobb cloverleaf is in the spotlight, thanks to the Braves’ title run. And one fan thinks the afterglow will linger.
“What you saw at The Battery and inside Truist Park, I think it’ll still be there,” said Johns Creek resident John Shafer, a Braves season-ticket holder for 31 years.
Time will tell if that’s true. The Silverspot movie theater and bar opened in May and its business performance has so far been mixed. General Manager Justin Brace said he doesn’t know how much the World Series victory will help.
“We do notice for the bar itself, it’s busier when there are games,” Brace said. Now that the season is over, “we’re hoping it’s not going to be too much of a drop-off.”
Braves’ front-office brass couldn’t be happier or more optimistic.
Greg Maffei, CEO of Braves owner Liberty Media, said on a conference call with investment analysts Thursday that the team has “already sold thousands of new season-ticket plans for the 2022 season.”
It’s the fulfillment of a dream that began from a nondescript office in the Circle 75 complex next to The Battery.
“We had a sales center, looking down at a big piece of dirt that was starting to be moved by bulldozers,” Schiller said. “We would dream aloud, ‘Someday, wouldn’t it be great to have a World Series played here and for everyone to see it all?’”
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