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Volume 22 No. 15
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Atlanta put Santee at forefront of integrated design

SunTrust Park in Atlanta was a unique challenge for Santee and his partner Joe Spear, designing a facility to mesh with the neighboring development, The Battery, which was built at the same time.
Photo: getty images

Earl Santee has described himself as an “urbanist,” and indeed, many of his stadium designs have been rooted in the heart of downtown city centers or were specifically meant to expand them into nearby areas.

But for the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park and neighboring development The Battery, that urban core was instead developed all at once, in turn creating a bold new direction for Santee in what has been one of the most expansive and influential projects of his lengthy career. Working directly with Georgia-based Wakefield Beasley & Associates and New York-based Beyer Blinder Belle, Santee and his Populous design firm helped collectively create a more than $1 billion development out of what was previously undeveloped land in suburban Cobb County, Ga.

Wakefield Beasley was the lead designer for The Battery mixed-use portion of the project and Beyer Blinder Belle designed the large public plaza inside the development. Populous, meanwhile, was the architect of record for SunTrust Park itself, with Santee and longtime partner Joe Spear working together on the project and deeply integrating their work with the other pieces.

Many MLB teams in recent years have sought to create various types of commercial development near their facilities, perhaps most notably the St. Louis Cardinals and their Ballpark Village project adjacent to Busch Stadium. But not before the Braves’ project, which opened at the start of the 2017 season, had a team so ambitiously and simultaneously merged large-scale outside development with plans to build a new ballpark.

In turn, it’s now creating a new paradigm for stadium design of which Santee is a leading force.

“The Braves knew that generating a lot of sustainable revenue outside of the stadium would be really impactful for them,” Santee said. “And integrating a singular brand throughout an entire community was something that really had not been done successfully before. We’ve seen quite a few clubs recently thinking about doing this. They may not be directly in the development business quite like the Braves. But they’re thinking about it.”

Because the Braves’ project was so ambitious and unprecedented, Spear recalls that a key part of Santee’s initial pitch to the club was on economic grounds, something that differed from Populous’ usual talks with teams on potential new business.

“Earl said to me that we really needed to present a compelling case to them,” Spear said. “So what he did was outline not only the various types of seating that he was thinking about, but the projected revenues from each of them. I asked him, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ That was something that would have never occurred to me to do for fear of offending someone. But when Earl was done, the Braves’ executives looked at each other and said, ‘Yeah, those numbers are about right.’”

Once ground was formally broken in September 2014, there were more challenges. The project was on a construction timetable of two and a half years, extremely tight for something of this scope. And it required Santee, Spear and Populous to work closely with Wakefield Beasley, Beyer Blinder Belle and others to create a seamless flow between the various parts of the development that in addition to the ballpark includes an array of retail, dining, entertainment and office components.

“We didn’t know initially how exactly the development would interact with the ballpark,” said Derek Schiller, Braves president and chief executive. “But Earl and Joe really spent a lot of time with the other architects to link those pieces together, and they knew it was so important to have this be one project.”