“Build it and they will come” is the famous line and theme of the 1989 film Field of Dreams. In the film, Kevin Costner plays the part of an Iowa farmer who wished to build a baseball park in “No Man’s Land.” That same philosophy applied to the creation of Gwinnett County’s Coolray field. Coolray Field is the “Atlanta” Braves’ minor league ballpark that was built in the less populated part of Gwinnett County almost one decade ago.
Similar to the Braves’ Major League park set to open in Cobb County in spring 2017, Coolray Field was a deal that led to its supporters promising that the complex would bring unprecedented prosperity to the area surrounding the structure. Flash forward to today and those promises fell way short.
Today, many of Coolray Field’s supporters blame its shortcomings on the recession and/or business risk. A recession and risk are beyond anyone’s control so let’s take those excuses out of the discussion because there are far bigger questions with Coolray Field’s existence if we apply common sense.
The bigger question with Coolray Field is: Did this thing make sense one decade ago? Judging from history, it’s a resounding no. The ballpark is out of the way for most people. The traffic to get to the ballpark is horrendous. There is no alternative transportation plan to get to the ballpark. Most of the public pays enough to see the Major League Baseball Braves who haven’t done that well for years so aside from die-hard baseball mavens, who really cares? Attendance has been abysmal. Just this past season, attendance was down 47 percent from its inaugural season. Much of that obviously is my opinion, so there are many who will agree and disagree with this assessment. I’m empathetic so I’m sure Coolray has many fans. I don’t understand them, but hey, whatever floats your boat.
Again, the promised development around Coolray Field never came to fruition. While its supporters blame the recession, let’s get real because with or without an economic setback, retail and office space, residential buildings and hotel rooms would have never happened. Why? Because attendance would have always been low and folks would have never occupied those places at acceptable levels. If those structures were erected, most likely the area would have become a ghost town by this point and time.
Don’t get me wrong because Gwinnett County is still great. The Infinite Energy Arena and its surrounding area hold quite a bit of promise. The venue attracts a lot of good entertainment and connects to other offerings. There is a lot of hope to redevelop the nearby Pleasant Hill Road corridor as well as other parts of the county. Let’s also not forget how folks can get to Snellville from other parts of the county via the Ronald Reagan Parkway.
Just like any other metropolis, there are have been scores of hits and misses with development in Gwinnett County, but let’s face it, Coolray Field is a boondoggle. I cannot help but compare Coolray Field to the 1974 Mel Brooks film Young Frankenstein where the grandson of an infamous scientist finds a way to reanimate a monster. When actor Gene Wilder’s character Dr. Frederick Frankenstein yells out “It’s Alive!” as The Monster comes to life, I reminded that Coolray Field is just like that as it hobbles along drawing few baseball fans to a place that isn’t attached to anything.
Today, the officials who were involved with the creation of Coolray Field are long out of power. I’m sure they had great intentions to inject an economic boost into the county. I cannot help but think that those on the current county commission and others are left holding this bag of rotten apples. I honestly hope that they don’t feel like that, but I would say that where there is disaster, there’s opportunity somewhere within that debacle. The latest idea coming forth for this area is a senior living development. I think that’s a great idea! If Coolray goes bust, maybe the senior can take the stadium over and make it their own field of dreams. Who knows, if seniors start their own league, they can draw bigger crowds than the “G Braves.”
Is there a way to save Coolray Field? I kind of doubt that Coolray Field has a bright future. The Monster needs to be sold, imploded and forgotten. Finally, move the team. Jefferson, Georgia, are you interested in a Minor League Baseball team?