By Maria Saporta
On the morning of the official opening day of the new Atlanta Braves stadium at SunTrust Park, Terry McGuirk and Mike Plant took a moment to reflect on the journey that brought the team to Cobb County.
McGuirk, chairman and CEO of the Atlanta Braves, and Plant, president of development, were part of the ribbon-cutting ceremony of SunTrust Bank’s onUp Experience – an interactive entertainment center with the subtle goal of helping people gain greater financial security and confidence.
Looking over the multi-use development that has sprouted up next to the stadium, McGuirk looked back.
“We always wanted to do this,” said McGuirk, reflecting on the original master plan to build a development around Turner Field. “We set out to build the fan experience And this is where we ended up. It’s not where we started.”
The journey has taken the Braves from its original Atlanta home just south of downtown – where the team played for 50 years – to what once was a wooded site just north of I-285 at the I-75 interchange.
“We have built a city,” McGuirk said. “This is a more urban environment than the one we left. There’s more office space within a mile of where we are than there is in downtown Charlotte.”
For Mike Plant, the journey has even been more personal. He had been the point person at the Braves who had initially sought to do a mixed-used development around Turner Field.
He used to describe the area around Turner Field as a golf course with no homes around it – only sprawling parking lots.
“We have come a long way in a short period of time,” Plant said. We have invested a $1 billion to this. And we are pleased with Georgia State University’s plans for Turner Field. We’re glad it’s not going to be torn down.”
When Plant moved his offices from Turner Field to the new SunTrust Park, he packed up all the plans the team had drawn up for a possible redevelopment of the area around Turner Field.
“I brought them with me as a reminder,” Plant said. The plans called for 2.2 million square foot development with residential, retail and stacking the parking and hiding it within the development.
Plant said he had presented the idea to then Mayor Shirley Franklin, who embraced the concept. And he began working with the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority in 2005 to explore the idea.
“For a number of reasons, I could never get an arrangement that the Recreation Authority could feel comfortable with,” Plant said, adding the issue boiled down to who would control the development around the stadium – the Authority or the Braves. “We had to control what was outside our front door.”
The negotiations with the City of Atlanta and the Recreation Authority did not improve under Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and the Braves ultimately decided they had had enough and worked out a deal to move the team to Cobb County where they were able to build a new stadium and develop the area around the new ballpark.
Plant looked around as the various tenants were hurriedly working on their opening day finishing touches – preparing for the thousands of people who would be going to the first regular season game to be played in the new stadium.
“It’s hard to believe,” Plant said as he looked over the complex they had planned and developed in just three years. “Where I’m standing, this was all woods three years ago.”