SBJ/Nov. 18-24, 2013/Facilities

Braves say AAA team will remain in Gwinnett Co.

Team got off to rough start after moving in ’09

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.”

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