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The Atlanta Braves’ surprising plans to build a new stadium in Cobb County are in large part about the opportunity to create a large-scale, mixed-use development surrounding the ballpark and not the facility itself.
Such ancillary projects have quickly become important in baseball, with recent examples including the St. Louis Cardinals’ long-delayed Ballpark Village in St. Louis and announcements of the San Francisco Giants’ planned Mission Rock development near AT&T Park and the involvement of Washington Nationals owner Ted Lerner in real estate developments around Nationals Park.
The Cobb County site where the club plans to build.
Photo by:BYRON E. SMALL
The Braves’ Cobb County development will incorporate about 1 million total square feet of residential, office space, retail, restaurants, green space and a hotel. The team has not disclosed costs.
Also part of the plan is a small amphitheater that takes advantage of the natural undulation of the ballpark site. The club intends to name a development partner to manage the mixed-use work early next year, Schiller said.
“Not only is this project going to have that mixed-use development, but we intend for a substantial portion of that to be open in 2017 in concert with the arrival of the ballpark itself,” Schiller said.
It’s a bold statement, considering that other teams, namely the Cardinals, said the same thing only to see those projects take years to develop after sports venues open their doors. Ballpark Village is still coming out of the ground eight seasons after new Busch Stadium opened.
Despite the misses that have come with the hits, though, teams keep pitching these deals, and there’s a key reason why: Mixed-use developments can spin off additional dollars not subject to league revenue sharing. They also help create a daylong destination for fans attending the games.
Braves executives said for at least the immediate future, the club’s operating budget and payroll will be firewalled from the real estate efforts.
“Our baseball operation needs to operate on the stadium itself and related revenue,” Schiller said. “The mixed-use development, not now anyway, is not integrated with the team from a business standpoint. We’ve run the team as a disciplined operation and that does not change with the new stadium.”
The Cardinals have echoed similar sentiments with Ballpark Village, saying its large upfront investment with partner Cordish Co. has yet to be recouped, according to Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III.
Related story: Braves say AAA team will remain in Gwinnett Co.
The project’s $100 million first phase, including restaurants, a club hall of fame and museum, and concert and event space, will open next spring. “I’m sure [the Braves] will be looking hard at how we do next year,” DeWitt said.
The Braves talked to Atlanta about redeveloping property near Turner Field.
Photo by:GETTY IMAGES
The Braves struck a deal with Cobb County officials and settled on a 60-acre greenfield site in an unincorporated part of town that still has a city of Atlanta address. It runs counter to a quarter-century ballpark development trend toward urban locales. But club officials insisted they saw the move as not necessarily the beginning of a bigger trend, even as numerous facilities beyond Turner Field built in the mid-1990s are approaching the end of their lease terms.
“I don’t think there’s a broader statement with regard to stadium location or anything like that,” Schiller said. “This is very specific to Greater Atlanta and the dynamics of Atlanta.”
In San Diego, investment in the Gaslamp District development around Petco Park has grown to $4 billion, nine years after two hotels and four residential towers opened at the same time the stadium did in 2004, said Erik Judson, a principal with JMI Sports involved with the Padres’ project.
“Ours was more organic, but the ballpark changed the whole dynamic for people investing in the area,” Judson said.
The development has been successful because of its location in the urban core of San Diego. Turner Field, by comparison, sits at the edge of downtown Atlanta, disconnected from the heart of the city encompassing the Georgia Dome and Philips Arena, Judson said.
“It’s not like they had an urban park before, even though it’s close to downtown,” he said. “They must feel the draw of significant economic development and new development is much greater [in Cobb County] than around Turner Field.”
The Atlanta Braves are hoping their planned move to suburban Cobb County will go much better than a similar but highly disappointing shift to the northern Atlanta suburbs for their Class AAA minor league team.
The Braves in 2009 relocated their top minor league affiliate from Richmond, Va., to Gwinnett County in Atlanta’s northeastern suburbs. The initial concept bore similarity to the current Cobb County plans: take advantage of the market’s northside population explosion and create a large mixed-use development surrounding the park.
Except, in the case of the Gwinnett Braves, the mixed-use development surrounding Coolray Field has not yet happened — the development and opening of the ballpark occurred in the teeth of the recession — and the club in its five seasons there has been no better than 12th in attendance in the 14-team International League. With the Charlotte Knights set to move into a new downtown ballpark next year, the Gwinnett Braves are a strong bet to rank last in International League attendance in 2014.
The Atlanta Braves own the Gwinnett franchise, and executives with the MLB club said they remain firmly committed to the team. The driving distance from Coolray Field, in Lawrenceville, to the planned stadium site in Cobb County is roughly the same as the distance between Coolray Field and Turner Field.
“We still believe firmly in the long-term viability of Gwinnett,” said Derek Schiller, Braves executive vice president of sales and marketing. “There were some missteps early, but we think they will be a great complement to the big club in Cobb County. And certainly from a player development perspective, we’ve already seen lots of benefits having our top affiliate just 35 miles or so away.”
Minor League Baseball executives echoed the Braves’ sentiments, saying there were misfires in the rushed construction and 2009 opening of Coolray Field but noting that there are opportunities for greater synergies between two suburban Braves teams.
“You only get the one chance to make a first impression, and there were mistakes in the opening in Gwinnett,” said Pat O’Conner, Minor League Baseball president. “But my instinct is that this Cobb project will be a win-win for both teams and energize the entire market. What the Braves are looking to do is take further advantage of the growing influence in that market north of downtown.”
Corey Breton, the Timberwolves’ vice president of ticket sales; Steve Mullins, vice president of corporate partnerships; and Jake Vernon, partnership sales manager, have all come on board in Minneapolis during the last few months.
Breton, most recently with the Atlanta Hawks, oversees all aspects of ticket and premium sales for the Timberwolves and Lynx, said Ryan Tanke, Minnesota’s senior vice president and chief revenue officer, who previously held that position.
Target Center will get a $97 million renovation.
Photo by:DAVID SHERMAN
Vernon was formerly president of Get Real Sports Sales, an Indianapolis firm he launched in March 2011 that several major league and college teams, including the Timberwolves, have used to outsource season-ticket sales. Before going out on his own, Vernon spent 12 years as the Indiana Pacers’ vice president of ticket sales and services.
Together, they join an organization in Minneapolis poised to capitalize on upgrades to Target Center that could include building a new club in the north end, opposite the Treasure Island Resort & Casino VIP Terrace at stage end on the arena’s south side, Tanke said.
The Timberwolves also would like to double the number of seats connected to the 250-seat Lexus Courtside Club and relocate the lounge reserved for floor-seat holders from the suite level down to the event level, he said.
Those two components are on the Timberwolves’ wish list but no decisions have been made on specific improvements, Tanke said. Last week, the City Council approved using $50 million in sales tax dollars to help fund upgrades for the publicly owned facility.
The Timberwolves are contributing $43 million in private financing in exchange for extending their lease through 2032. Target Center operator AEG has committed to paying $5.5 million for the project.
The team and the city expect to jointly select an architect by the end of December to design the renovation, said Ted Johnson, the Timberwolves’ senior vice president and chief marketing officer. The project will require 18 to 24 months.
Meanwhile, Get Real Sports still has deals in place to sell season tickets for Butler, Xavier and Wright State for men’s college basketball, said Vernon, its former president. No decision has been made whether to sell the company or keep it running, he said.
> FOOTBALL AT DAYTONA? Daytona International Speedway officials are pitching the track’s huge infield as a key piece of the game-day experience during talks with major schools to schedule a college football game at the NASCAR track.
Joie Chitwood, Daytona’s president at the International Speedway Corp. property, is in the midst of conversations with athletic directors and networks to book an early-season game at the track after the facility’s $400 million renovation is completed in 2016.
The infield at the 2 1/2-mile track is large enough to house both the game itself and tailgating festivities for both teams, according to Chitwood.
“Florida is a big recruiting ground for a lot of schools, and when you tell people that in Daytona you could have the world’s biggest tailgate party in the infield as part of the college football experience, it seems to catch their attention,” Chitwood said.
Last month, Bristol Motor Speedway announced it would play host to a Tennessee-Virginia Tech game in 2016 at the 160,000-seat track. Daytona, as part of the facility’s renovation, will see its capacity shrink to 101,000 seats from 147,000.
Daytona has not come up with a total seat number for its football game, but “with all of our camping options in the infield, there is no other venue that can offer this [amount of space],” Chitwood said.
As it stands now, Daytona does not have a deal in place. “It’s finding out what teams want to see out of it, how TV plays into it in terms of conferences and network partnerships,” he said. “We have to navigate that minefield a little bit.”
Don Muret can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @breakground.
Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.
Daytona International Speedway will increase the price of a premium-seat experience for NASCAR events after completing a $400 million renovation in 2016.
Track officials set pricing for two new group suite products, Midway Suites and High Bank Suites, in addition to a multiday club-seat package. They were to begin selling those three hospitality options last weekend during NASCAR’s final race of the season in Homestead, Fla.
The High Bank Suites will offer interior lounges and outdoor patios facing the track with seats below.
Photo by:DAYTONA INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY
As a result of developing permanent hospitality spaces inside the facility, the track will charge $500 a person for the Midway Suites starting with the 2016 race, Daytona President Joie Chitwood said. The speedway previously charged $400 a person for the Daytona 500.
Doing the math, buying a 50-person Midway Suite would cost $25,000, a 25 percent increase over the chalets, which shut down after the race starts. The Midway Suites bring patrons inside the track and stay open for the duration of the race. The price for a Midway Suite covers race tickets and access to an indoor lounge on the back side of the track with no views of the action.
The High Bank Suites, also on the mezzanine level, are being sold as a seasonlong ticket package covering eight days of NASCAR racing. Those suites have interior lounges and outdoor patios facing the track with seats below those decks.
For that product, the average price of $2,448 a person covers tickets to the track’s major NASCAR races: the Budweiser Duels, Sprint Unlimited race, a Camping World Truck Series race, two Nationwide Series races, the Daytona 500 and the Coke Zero 400.
Buying a High Bank Suite for 50 people would cost $122,400.
“This is one of the things our motorsports customer really wants,” Chitwood said. “They want the private side of the suite, where it’s a little bit less noisy, but they want to sit outside in the stadium.”
Food and drink served by Americrown, ISC’s in-house concessionaire, is a separate fee for all the new premium-seating products.
The Four-Day Club will sit on the third level of the front-stretch grandstand.
Photo by:DAYTONA INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY
The third premium-seat option is a four-day ticket package in a new club on the third level, one floor above the mezzanine level.
The $695 ticket price a person covers admission to select February races — the Budweiser Duels, Camping World Truck Series, Nationwide Series and Daytona 500 races — plus food, drink and parking. New amenities include a private bar and wider seat. The current club seat costs $680 a person.
A two-day ticket option costs $495 and covers Saturday-Sunday admission to the Nationwide Series and Daytona 500 races.
“We’re taking an experience we have and we’re making it better, and we think we’ve been very reasonable on the pricing side,” Chitwood said. “More importantly, the club element gives our customer the option to do [smaller] hospitality.”
The premium-seat upgrades, plus increases in concession and corporate sponsorship sales tied to the renovation, are projected to boost Daytona’s bottom line by more than $15 million annually, according to public filings by International Speedway Corp., the track’s owner.
The new premium spaces meet the changing hospitality needs of sponsors and other companies entertaining guests at NASCAR races.
DuPont, for example, used to host up to 1,000 people but has scaled back its race-day functions to 50 to 100 in recent years, Chitwood said.
“We want to be nimble,” he said. “As we design it, we don’t want to be stuck with something in five years that isn’t fitting the market need. We want to be prepared in case it swings to a new direction. We want to make sure we’re not tied to one form or another.”
Daytona is still forming prices for new, higher-end suites on the upper levels of a tower perched above the middle of the grandstand, he said.
Speedway officials are selling the premium inventory in-house and will debut a virtual showroom for sales at the 2014 Daytona 500.