SBD/November 11, 2013/Facilities

Braves To Build New $672M Ballpark In Cobb County After Turner Field Lease Expires In '16

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Turner Field has been home to the Braves since the '97 season
The Braves today announced that they will not extend their lease at Turner Field after '16 and instead will move to Cobb County, Ga., where they will build a $672M stadium and "integrated mixed-use development," according to the MARIETTA DAILY JOURNAL. The Braves "will be a significant investor, along with Cobb County, in the project." Turner Field needs $150M in infrastructure work, "none of which would significantly enhance the fan experience." If the Braves "were to pay for additional projects focused on improving the fan experience," the additional costs could exceed $200M. Even with a "significant capital investment in Turner Field, there are several issues that cannot be overcome -- lack of access to major roadways and lack of control over the development of the surrounding area." Construction on the new stadium is scheduled to start in the second half of '14 and "will be completed by opening day" in '17 (MDJONLINE.com, 11/11). Braves President John Schuerholz, Exec VP/Business Operations Mike Plant and Exec VP/Sales & Marketing Derek Schiller today said that the new ballpark "will be built at the northwest intersection of I-75 and I-285 in the Galleria/Cumberland Mall area." The Braves have played in downtown Atlanta since moving to the city from Milwaukee in '66 and have played at Turner Field since '97 (AJC.com, 11/11). The Braves have been working with HKS as a consultant on initial ballpark specs, including cost and seat count. HKS designed the Triple-A Int'l League Gwinnett Braves' 10,500-seat ballpark that opened in '09 (Don Muret, Staff Writer).

WHY LEAVE TURNER FIELD? Schuerholz, Plant and Schiller said that the team "decided not to seek another 20-year lease at Turner Field and began talks with the Cobb Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority in July." The infrastructure at Turner Field was originally built for the '96 Summer Olympics before being converted to a ballpark. Plant said that talks "broke down with the Atlanta Fulton County Recreational Authority earlier this year," and added that the team "has not signed a contract with Cobb County, but he’s '100 percent certain it will happen.'" Schiller said that the team "will be responsible for any cost overruns" (AP, 11/11). MLB.com's Mark Bowman reports, "The Braves informed the city of Atlanta late last week." Club officials are "scheduled to meet with Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal on Monday to detail their plans" (MLB.com, 11/11). ESPN.com's David Schoenfield writes beyond Turner Field's age, there is "another reason for the move ... and it has little to do with Turner Field being an outdated facility." A new ballpark in Cobb County "would be closer to more of the affluent Atlanta suburbs." Despite averaging more than 90 wins and making the playoffs three of the past four seasons, Braves attendance "has remained stagnant in recent seasons at around 2.5 million -- ranking just eighth" in the NL each of the past three seasons. A move to the suburbs "could possibly help attendance," although the local rapid-transit system in Atlanta "doesn't currently have a rail line to Cobb County (although it has been discussed)." The parking lots around Turner Field also are "owned by the city of Atlanta, so a new ballpark would lead to more revenue in that area." Braves execs in their meeting today said that traffic is the "No. 1 reason fans don't go to games." Turner Field, while "located near freeway exit ramps, is also located in the middle of a bunch of side streets with very few immediate parking areas around the stadium." The Braves said that they are "underserved by about 5,000 parking spots" (ESPN.com, 11/11).

MISPLACED PRIORITIES? In Atlanta, Jeff Schultz writes, "If the Braves really are moving into a new stadium in Cobb County, complete with all of the bells, whistles and martini bars that go with new ballparks, good for them." But in Atlanta, it "seems like the franchises care more about building new structures than they do improving the teams" (AJC.com, 11/11). Also in Atlanta, Bluestein & Galloway write of the proposed deal, "The key question is whether the financing arranged by Cobb County will hold -- and what kind of financing it is." Keep in mind that "spending public monies on stadiums has become a volatile topic," which is the "primary reason Atlanta is unlikely to actively challenge the move." Remaking the Falcons' stadium "has drained the well of public good will." Unlike the Falcons' stadium negotiations, this deal "wouldn’t involve the Georgia World Congress Center or other state property." Look for the city of Atlanta to "treat the Braves’ departure as an opportunity to remake the area as a year-around, residential/entertainment center." Maybe someday it will be "a place for horses to run" (AJC.com, 11/11).
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