The Braves decision to leave Turner Field is still a bitter subject for boosters of Atlanta’s urban core – and former mayor Bill Campbell is one of them. The Braves took over Turner field on his watch in 1997 – a stadium he thinks is far from outdated after only twenty years.
"It was a mistake by the Braves and I think a very serious fiscal mistake by Cobb County" to help fund the team's new stadium with taxpayer money, Campbell told 11Alive News, in his first sit-down interview since he was sentenced to prison for tax evasion 10 years ago.
Campbell agreed to talk us only about the ’96 Olympic games and by extension, the stadium that hosted the opening and closing ceremonies.
"The Braves were given this marvelous stadium that had this great history with the Olympic movement. I still believe it’s one of the great stadiums anywhere in baseball," Campbell said, incredulous that the Braves are abandoning Turner Field so soon after moving in.
"I think it’s blasphemous, quite honestly, the shocking amount of money that’s being paid by the people of Cobb County -- many of whom somehow proclaim that they are fiscal conservatives -- and yet they’re paying half a billion dollars for the Braves to move a few miles north, with the incredible traffic problems that will occur inevitably there. And without public transportation, it seems a waste," Campbell said.
Cobb County agreed to fund $300 million of the Braves new stadium project with taxpayer funds. However, interest on bonds and additional public infrastructure are expected to drive up the cost to taxpayers.
The Braves move is unstoppable – with the team’s new stadium and adjacent mixed-use development due to open in about ten months. The team’s president admits Campbell is not alone in his criticism.
"You’re going to find different people with different relations and different emotions attached to Turner Field. And we understand that. We have those same types of emotions that are attached to Turner Field. We like Turner Field a lot. Ultimately, it was a 20-year lease," said Derek Schiller, Braves President for Business, when asked about Campbell's remarks during a recent media tour at SunTrust Park.
Campbell says the Braves jumped the gun by abandoning a neighborhood that was slowly transforming organically into something that could have been more economically supportive of the ballpark.
"There was a lot of new housing that was being built there," Campbell said. "It would have worked very well. And I think it’s a very sad moment for Atlanta."
Campbell says the Braves' move out of Atlanta reflected the priorities of the Braves new Colorado-based ownership.
"When the Braves were no longer owned by Ted Turner, (ownership) it lost its real sense of community. Ted Turner kept the Hawks here in downtown," Campbell said. "Ted Turner is one of the great heroes of Atlanta... If Ted Turner still owned the Atlanta Braves, they would still be at (Turner) Field, not moving to the suburbs."
With the Braves expected to vacate Turner Field shortly after the end of the 2016 season, Schiller says it's time to look toward the team's next act. Turner Field "just didn’t prove to be. I think at this point in time, we’re looking very much toward the future," said Schiller.
Campbell has been living quietly in Atlanta for most of the last decade after spending two years in federal prison on tax evasion charges. Over the years, Campbell has declined repeated requests for an interview about his prosecution and incarceration. The 1996 Olympics, and the Braves move from Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to Turner Field were among the bright spots of his administration 20 years ago.