A view from SunTrust Park of The Battery Atlanta plaza on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. (Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com)

The Braves’ arrival leaves Cobb County forever changed

We’ve bought two houses in our 33 years here. We closed on one in an office on Circle 75 Parkway. We closed on the other in a building on Herodian Way, which abuts Circle 75. My older daughter lived in an apartment off Cumberland Boulevard, which becomes Windy Ridge. The two roads leading to media parking at SunTrust Park are Circle 75 and Windy Ridge.

Media parking is in the Boy Scouts of America lot. My younger daughter’s high school classmate worked in the BSA building. From the media parking lot, I can see the Galleria tower that houses my dentist’s office. I can also see the Windy Hill Marriott, where I lived for a week in March 1984 when I started work at this newspaper.

When buying CDs was a thing, I bought maybe 100 at the Best Buy across Cobb Parkway. (And probably 25 at the neighboring Media Play, long gone.) Nearly every car we’ve had has come from a dealership up Cobb Parkway, including the two currently housed in this garage. Apologies for the trip down memory lane, but a walk around SunTrust Park and the adjacent The Battery Atlanta had an effect on this jaded correspondent.

As noted, I’ve been here a while. I’ve seen stadiums built and unbuilt. I’ve seen the Olympics come and go. But my visit to SunTrust Park left me with the same feeling as when the opening ceremony reached its climax with Muhammad Ali lighting the cauldron — that this thing we’d discussed and debated and anticipated and maybe dreaded for years is really happening.

There are 28 places in North America that are home to a major-league baseball team. Cobb County is among those 28. Maybe you hate the thought of the Braves leaving downtown, and maybe you blanched at the corners cut in that relocation. But as a Cobb County resident — and as a taxpayer with some skin in this game — I cannot look on the ballpark and its glistening surroundings and not feel some sense of … awe.

(There, I’ve said it. “Awe.” And not as in, “Aw, darn.”)

We Cobb folks have spent 3 1/2 years fretting over Braves traffic/parking, and I worry still. And I won’t tell you that STP itself is the prettiest ballpark ever. (Don’t get me wrong: It’s very nice.) But the ballpark was never intended as a stand-alone, and The Battery is what got me, with its condos and restaurants and bars and and even a transplanted Coca-Cola Roxy Theatre. Yeah, I’d read about the plans. Seeing it was different. Seeing was something akin to believing.

Having lived in/near Smyrna/Vinings these 33 years, I’ve witnessed good things happening out our way. The Village Green was a major upgrade. The Cobb Energy Centre is a lovely facility. Cumberland Mall has spruced itself up. The East-West Connector — it becomes Cumberland Boulevard once you cross Atlanta Road — spawned all manner of new subdivisions, ours included, and businesses. That said, there’s a glow about SunTrust Park and The Battery that couldn’t have happened without a big-league baseball team.

When we speak of real-life game-changers, we tend to reach. Not many real-life things actually change real lives. The arrival of the Braves, above and beyond the performance of the Braves themselves, has that potential. I’m not a member of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, and I note again that Tim Lee, the commission chairman who brought them to Cobb, was unseated by voters before the team could even get here. But for better or worse and possibly both, this suburban county has been forever changed.

It wasn’t the buildings of The Battery that struck me so much as the people walking around at midday on a work day, and that foot traffic should grow exponentially when/if construction is complete. It reminded me of Atlantic Station, only with a shiny new ballpark attached. The Braves will be a destination 81 times a year. The Battery can be a destination every day of every year. The Battery wouldn’t be here without the Braves.

Over the months, I’ve monitored the progress of SunTrust Park mostly from my dentist’s chair and by noting the cranes rising above the site while driving past. I’d put off visiting the place because I hate looking at half-built things. (What can I say? I’m shallow.) Still, Tuesday’s drive to the ballpark made this Cobb denizen go, “Whoa. Where’d this come from?”

Roads that once were cut-throughs lead to a major-league stadium, and not just a major-league stadium. The sort of reference points that dot any major suburban county in these United States — mall, hotels, office towers, main drag — are part of a redrawn map. You might cringe at the thought of the Braves in Cobb County, but those Braves and their ballpark and its mixed-use adjunct are now the first things we think of when we think of Cobb County.

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