With the Atlanta Braves playing at the new SunTrust Park in Cobb County, a Holiday Inn Express near the stadium saw an opportunity.
Before SunTrust Park opened this spring, the hotel changed its name to the Holiday Inn Express Atlanta Galleria-Ballpark Area.
“I don’t think really any of the other hotels on the market have that attached to their name yet, so we thought about just being ahead of the curve,” said Edward Kalashian, vice president of operations for Buckhead America Hospitality, which owns the Holiday Inn Express.
About one out of every four fans attending Braves games comes from outside Georgia, so hotels are among the businesses that have felt some effect from the addition of SunTrust Park. The stadium seats 41,149 people, though on average this season, it has been 73 percent full, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“Cobb’s No. 1 issue is tourism, and the whole momentum has created a huge increase in tourism business,” said David Connell, the Cobb Chamber of Commerce’s CEO and president. “We have venues there, businesses, that are positively impacted by the new visitors coming into this area, and that includes, for a large part, retail businesses.”
The Battery, a newly built mixed-use development surrounding the stadium with dozens of shops, restaurants and a hotel, has generated lots of buzz. Other businesses in the area, however, report mixed results.
Kalashian said the hotel has had a small increase in guests since SunTrust Park opened, more so when the bigger baseball teams, such as the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals, come to town.
“With better teams playing, the occupancy of the hotels goes up based on more attendance,” he said.
Restaurants have noticed some effect, though it isn’t always positive. Scalini’s Italian Restaurant, which sits on Cobb Parkway around the corner from the stadium, has had a few Braves fans dine there. But Robert Bogino, the restaurant’s general manager, said business is dampened by electronic signs surrounding Cobb Parkway that advise drivers to avoid the road on game days due to traffic concerns.
The Braves have 81 home games in 2017, in addition to concerts.
“That has just killed our business because we are right in the center of where all these signs are,” Bogino said.
He said he has spoken with the Cobb County Department of Transportation, which erected the signs.
“Once they turn those on, nobody wants to come down Cobb Parkway, and there will literally be no traffic on Cobb Parkway because everyone’s trying to avoid it,” Bogino said.
Over the past few weeks, he said business has slightly rebounded as locals have learned that traffic isn’t so heavy.
Tacos La Villa, which is across the street from Scalini’s, saw fewer customers during the first week of SunTrust Park opening.
“I’m thinking it was because everyone was scared of the traffic,” supervisor Nancy Covarrubias said, adding that traffic on Cobb Parkway isn’t bad.
But business recovered after that. She said she sees a few more customers due to SunTrust Park, though the numbers aren’t huge. But Covarrubias said she is hopeful that out-of-town visitors will discover the restaurant.
“There’s new people coming to the stadium from all over,” she said. “Once they find out we’re here, they’ll come over.”
Cumberland Mall has heightened foot traffic because of SunTrust Park, said Chris McCoy, general manager of the mall.
“We do believe that the new Braves stadium has helped drive growth in the Cumberland area as well,” McCoy said in a statement to Crain’s. “Retailers that carry Atlanta Braves-related merchandise are seeing the most direct benefit, as well as those seeking affordable dining choices before and after the game.”
Holiday Inn Express has also capitalized on people’s desire for Braves merchandise. Starting a few hours before games, the Tomahawk Shop, a local vendor, sells team clothing, bobbleheads and other products at a pop-up store in the hotel’s meeting rooms, Kalashian said.
The Tomahawk Shop posts signs in the Holiday Inn Express’ lobby and parking lot, which the hotel uses for overflow parking during games.
“[The shop has] a following, so that brings people to the hotel, as well that has given us kind of different exposure that we might not have had in the past,” Kalashian said.
Connell of the Cobb Chamber said existing businesses have been “selling out” since SunTrust Park opened, but the Holiday Inn Express doesn’t experience that for every game. Kalashian said the hotel was full for the stadium’s opening day, when the Cardinals played and during the weekend of Billy Joel’s concert in April.
He said he expects the hotel to host more guests during concerts than during most ballgames.
Connell said in addition to SunTrust Park’s effect on existing businesses, it has led to more newly built apartments and condos, and an improved ability for companies to recruit employees.
“One of the things that has happened is a transformation of what it feels like to be here,” he said. “This is rapidly turning into a work-live-play community.”