By Maria Saporta
The Atlanta Braves announced Monday morning plans to build a new stadium at I-75 and I-285 — leaving the downtown location where they have been for nearly 50 years.
Team officials announced that the new $672 million stadium will be built in partnership with Cobb County, and that it will be open in time for the opening of the 2017 baseball season. The Atlanta Braves are in the process of buying 60 acres of land just outside 285, and it plans to build the new stadium as part of a mixed-use development.
John Schuerholz, president of the Atlanta Braves, said the new location would provide greater access for its fan base and would permit the Braves to create a “wonderful experience in and around the stadium” before and after baseball games.
“We didn’t make this decision lightly,” Schuerholz said, adding that there were mixed emotions because of the great memories of playing in Turner Field since 1997 after the 1996 Olympic Games and in the Atlanta-Fulton County stadium from the time the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966. “But we are quite enthused with the new vision for our new stadium going forward.”
Mike Plant, the Atlanta Braves’ executive vice president of operations, said the team had been considering its future since 2005 — knowing its lease at Turner Field would be running out by the end of 2016. Plant said the Braves had invested $125 million in Turner Field, and it anticipated needing to spend another $150 million in “back-of-the-house” improvements just to keep the facility in good working order.
Plant said it would have cost another $200 million to significantly enhance the fans’ experience. And the Braves still would not have addressed their fans No. 1 complaint — traffic and difficulty getting to the games.
“We still don’t have mass transit coming to the stadium,” Plant said, adding that he estimated that despite all the surface parking, it’s still underserved by 5,000 spaces. “We didn’t believe it could be overcome.”
The Atlanta Braves had been exploring the possibility of developing a mag-lev train from the Georgia State University MARTA station to Turner Field as way to help address that issue.
Also Plant said the Braves had wanted the area around Turner Field to be developed into a mixed-use project that could have been co-developed with the Atlanta Braves.
“With the current location, we couldn’t control that process,” Plant said. “This new site allows us the ability to do that.”
The Cobb- Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Authority will own the new stadium, which will be built with both funding from the Atlanta Braves and the county, Plant said without getting into specifics.
The new Braves stadium will have between 41,000 to 42,000 seats. That is significantly fewer seats than the 50,000 that Turner Field has. Derek Schiller, executive vice president of sales and marketing for the Atlanta Braves, said the new stadium will have all the modern fan amenities, and the fewer seats will make it a more intimate fan experience.
The Braves first met informally with Tim Lee, chairman of the Cobb County Commission, in July to discuss the possibility. The project has not gone through any of the government approvals that could be necessary to get public funding.
The total cost of the stadium — which includes the 15 acres for the stadium site, the adjacent parking and the associated infrastructure — will be $672 million. That does not include the cost of the proposed mixed-use development that will surround the new stadium.
It will be located at Windy Ridge Parkway and Circle 75 Parkway just south of Genuine Parts’ headquarters outside of I-75 and I-285. The property is withing the Cumberland Community Improvement District.
Schiller said the new location is “near the geographic center of our fan base,” and he added that “access around the stadium is greatly enhanced.”
But Atlanta Braves officials acknowledged that there would be no rail transit access near the new facility. The closest MARTA transit station is the Arts Center in Midtown.
Up until now, the Atlanta Braves had said they were in the process of negotiating a new lease agreement with the City of Atlanta to stay in Turner Field. The facility has been run by the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority, and the Atlanta Braves had said they wanted to have control of the facility in a new deal. Several other issues also were on the table including the redevelopment of the parking lots around Turner Field.
The negotiations, however, seemed to stall as the City of Atlanta focused on plans to build a new Atlanta Falcons stadium next to the Georgia Dome.
“Those challenges have not changed. We were working on ways to mitigate those challenges,” Plant said. “We didn’t make the progress that we felt we needed to for our long-term future. The issues that were important to us were insurmountable to us to work out an arrangement going forward.”
Plant said that he met with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed last Thursday to inform him of the Atlanta Braves’ decision to move to Cobb County.
Asked whether Reed tried to get the Braves to reverse that decision, Plant said he preferred to keep that conversation private.
By comparison, Plant said that the discussions with Cobb County have gone well so far. “We all feel this is a great example of a true public-private partnership,” Plant said.