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An inside history of the Atlanta Braves’ decision to leave Turner Field

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on November 15, 2013

A chance encounter in Copenhagen in October 2011 opened up the conversations between the city of Atlanta and the Atlanta Braves about the team’s future at Turner Field.

Michael Plant, the Braves’ executive vice president of business operations, ran into Peter Aman, then the chief operating officer for the city of Atlanta, at a restaurant in the capital of Denmark.

Plant said that it was time for the city and the Braves to start talking about the team’s lease at Turner Field, which would be running out on Dec. 31, 2016.

At the time, the Braves told the city that four options were on the table:

One, they could maintain the status quo — just renewing the lease and the genernance arrangements as they currently existed while coming up with a way to generate money for improvements (which was obviously not the top choice for the Braves).

Two, the Braves could relieve the city of all responsibilities by turning over ownership of the stadium and the parking lots to the team (which was clearly not a viable option for the city).

Three, the city and the Braves could restructure their relationship so that it would include the baseball team having operational control of Turner Field (without the oversight of the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority), that the Braves would partner in the redevelopment of the 55 acres of parking lots surrounding the stadium into a mixed-use development; and that the city and the team come up with a plan to dedicate new funding for maintenance and improvements to the facility over the next 20 years.

The fourth option was that the Atlanta Braves would pursue building a new stadium in metro Atlanta as a cornerstone of a larger mixed-use development. At the time, the Braves told the city that the fourth option was unrealistic given the current real estate environment.

From that point on, negotiations between the city and the Braves occurred in fits and spurts. On Nov. 12, city officials released a timeline of their negotiations that acknowledged a sense of frustration of the part of the Braves during this past February and March.

“The City enters a period of low responsiveness due to significant negotiations occurring on Falcons’ stadium. Mike Plant expresses opinion that the Braves should get the same level of attention.”

In April, in response to Plant’s concern, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed meets with the Braves as part of a renewed effort to engage the negotiations. Transit, specifically a maglev system, is presented as a possible solution.

Between May and September, the city and the Braves have some discussions over the maglev system and the redevelopment of the parking lots, with the city expressing concerns on both.

On Sept. 19, Plant sends a letter to the city with 16 points outlining the team’s requirements. No one at the city is aware that the Braves have been meeting with officials in Cobb County to explore building a stadium in the suburban county.

The city tells the Braves that it will reply to its letter in early November “once legal has vetted the 16 demands.”

On Wednesday, Nov. 6 at 7:49 a.m., Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed receives an “urgent” text from Plant saying they need to meet. The mayor, who had won re-election the day before, is taking the day off. They agree to meet at 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 7.

That’s when Reed first learns of the team’s decision to leave Turner Field for Cobb County by the end of 2016 — exactly 50 years from when the Braves had left Milwaukee for downtown Atlanta.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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