Hank Aaron statue to remain in Atlanta – but where is still TBD

By Maria Saporta

It was both symbolic and intentional to announce the pending sale of Turner Field in a tent next to the famous Hank Aaron statue.

It marked a moment. Atlanta may be losing the Braves, but it will always have Hank Aaron and his remarkable legacy  – one that extended far beyond hitting homeruns. Hank Aaron built bridges between the races in the days of segregation in the deep South.

In many ways, Aaron reflects the very soul of Atlanta – in his kind, humble and understated way.

Hank Aaron statue

GSU President Mark Becker, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Recreation Authority’s Keisha Lance Bottoms and Carter President Scott Taylor stand next to statue of our Homerun King (Photo by Maria Saporta)

But the question remains. What will happen to the statue of him hitting Homerun #715?

“The Hank Aaron statue is staying in the City of Atlanta,” said Keisha Lance Bottoms, executive director of the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority. “We know it will stay in Atlanta. We’ve had a lot of asks.”

Two of the leading requests have come from the development team that has a $30  million deal to buy the 67-acre Turner Field property – Georgia State University, Carter and Oakland Development, and then a request from the Center for Civil and Human Rights.

The choice apparently is between locating the statue where history was made or locating it where it will be seen by the most people in the center of Atlanta’s tourism district.

“I’m open,” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said after the deal was announced. “I want to listen to the advice of Hank Aaron and his family. What I do know – it is going to be preserved in an appropriate fashion. I’m not going to drive that decision. We are just happy to get to this day.”

Hank Aaron

Posing for pictures with Hank Aaron – GSU President Becker, Mayor Reed, Authority’s Bottoms, Carter’s Scott Taylor and City Councilman Kwanza Hall (Photo by Maria Saporta)

During the press conference, Reed said: “It’s fitting we make this announcement next to the statue of Hank Aaron. Hank Aaron helped unify the city with one slug. The old stadium was named the launch pad. It was an open invitation to homerun hitters. Today is all about letting go of all the parking lots and saying good-bye to asphalt eyesores.”

Georgia State and Carter, which will co-develop the site in a mixed-use community, have expressed an interest in honoring Hank Aaron as part of their development.

During the press conference, Becker said that part of GSU’s proposal was to put a “baseball park there where we can honor the history of that site and the history of Henry Aaron.”

In a phone interview later, Becker said it premature.

“We would be happy to incorporate the statue into what we will do,” Becker said. “Exactly how we are going to do that, I’m not sure. If we have an opportunity to have the statue to honor Hank Aaron, we would love to do so. We are not at that point.”

Meanwhile, Scott Taylor, president of Carter, said Atlanta has an opportunity to make Hank Aaron Drive one of the greatest streets in America.”

GSU likely will build a historic baseball field on the same site of the now-demolished Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Taylor said the intent is to connect the site to where the Atlanta Braves won the World Series and where Aaron hit the homerun that helped change the hearts and minds of people around the country.

“We have had discussions with the Aarons around honoring his legacy in some appropriate way,” Taylor said. “We recognize the rich sports legacy on the site, and we want to maintain that going forward.”

Meanwhile, Derreck Kayongo, president and CEO of the Center for Civil and Human Rights, said he love to locate the statue near his attraction.

“I came up with the idea that it would be a wonderful opportunity for both of us – the Center and Hank Aaron,” Kayongo said. “Wouldn’t it be great if we had it?”

Hank Aaron

Tent where the announcement took place was right next to Hank Aaron’s statue (Photo by Maria Saporta)

A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, said the downtown community would be happy to work with Hank Aaron to to find the best spot for the statue.

“I don’t have any problem with it staying there,” Robinson said. “I think Henry Aaron is a great story any place in Atlanta.”

So then it boils down to where does Aaron want his statue to be.

“We have talked to Hank about that,” said Becker about the GSU option. “I’ve heard him say he loves the idea. It’s where history happened.”

But asked whether the plans would include the naming of the baseball field after Aaron or where the statue would be or whether there would some kind of museum or way to fully honor Aaron, Becker was short on specifics.

“We haven’t designed anything yet,” Becker said. “We don’t have any specifics of what we are going to do.”

But the two entities making the decision of where the statue will go – the Recreation Authority and Hank Aaron along with his wife, Billye – would like to know more.

Could baseball diamond be called Hank Aaron Field?

Or perhaps Hank Aaron Field at a yet-to-be-named baseball park – giving GSU the opportunity to sell naming rights while honoring Aaron at the same time.

Turner Field Hank Aaron

Mayor Kasim Reed announces Turner Field deal as Scott Taylor and Keisha Lance Bottoms listen (Photo by Maria Saporta)

“It is not something the Recreation Authority has discussed in full,” said Bottoms, who was interested in knowing more about how Aaron would be honored.

When contacted by phone, Aaron said he was touched by people wanting to honor him. But when asked about his preference, Aaron said he first wanted to talk to GSU’s Mark Becker.

“I’m not going to say anything right now until after I talk to him,” Aaron said.

Based on an earlier interview with Hank and Billye Aaron, having the statue remain in Atlanta was especially important.

But then the Atlanta Braves claimed they actually owned the statue, a fact that was rightly challenged. Citizens from Atlanta raised the money for the statue, and they gave it to the Authority back when they unveiled the statue.

The Recreation Authority took a stand telling the Braves the statue would remain in Atlanta.

After months of a behind-the-scenes tug-of-war, the Braves finally agreed to a “two statue solution” that had been suggested in SaportaReport.

Since then, the Atlanta Braves have commissioned internationally acclaimed artist Ross Rosin to sculpt a new Aaron statue that will be part of SunTrust Park.

Hank Aaron deserves no less. His legacy belongs in Atlanta – and with the Braves.

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.

10 replies
  1. Curly3S says:

    Any Mayor but this one would have ensured that Atlanta kept her Braves in Atlanta.  As a long-time Braves fan and City resident, I cannot fathom that he essentially facilitated their departure to Cobb County. He will forever be recognized as the Mayor who ran off the Braves.  Having witnessed the efforts to get them here (and I was an ardent Crackers fan).  Their departure speaks volumes about his tenure as mayor.Report

    Reply
  2. O4W says:

    Curly3S If not forking over as much as a quarter of a billion dollars to the Braves just so that they could make money is considered a major “blot,” I’d take that any day of the week.Report

    Reply
  3. Hank Ezell says:

    Glad we’re keeping the statue.  I seem to remember you were first to point out that it might be snatched away.  You win; we win, and thanks.Report

    Reply
  4. Wormser Hats says:

    Curly3S  Whatever our Mayor did or did not do to woo the braves to stay in the city, their clandestine assemblage of land along Circle 75 Parkway using puppet companies, really only points to one truth: Liberty Media really never intended to vie to keep them in  the city.  Across this country, seasonal ball parks to little to elevate the communities across which they cast their shadows.  No matter how much fluff they bestow upon SunTrust Park, just watch, it will be no different.
    Property values in the Summerhill area are now on the upswing, in anticipation of the Braves’ departure.  Fans come to the park for the games and leave promptly thereafter.  that’s the nature of hours-long entertainment. They aren’t lingering for an extra meal or in search of bricks-and-mortar retailers to patronize.  This is largely why Cumberland Mall and the Cobb Galleria are largely indifferent to wary of SunTrust Park’s impact, which will largely be limited to induced traffic jams and parking nightmares.Report

    Reply
  5. ironiclad says:

    The City of Atlanta did not employ Aaron – the Atlanta Braves organization did. The statue should travel with the Braves, and surely there is a lawyer out there who would draw up an agreement that if the Braves depart the state (not unlikely one day), the statue stays.Report

    Reply
  6. ironiclad says:

    Wormser Hats Curly3S  So you’re saying the City of Atlanta could not think of a way to keep even more money in the city limits? I haven’t been in that neighborhood for many years, but last time I was there, all my party and I wanted to do was get safely out. Sorry. That’s the truth.Report

    Reply
  7. Wormser Hats says:

    ironiclad Wormser Hats Curly3S  It doesn’t quite seem as though the city will be on the losing-end for failing to subsidize Liberty Media’s sports franchise.  Unlike Cobb taxpayers, residents of the City of Atlanta won’t be bearing the burden of the local leverage.  Can’t speak to your real or perceived discomfort with the ‘hoods around Turner Field, but it will be interesting to see how much property and personal crime trends change in the Cumberland/Galleria vicinity; with already some of the metro’s highest commercial-area incidence vehicle break-ins (sorry, THAT’s THE TRUTH, not mere perception).Report

    Reply
  8. ironiclad says:

    Wormser Hats ironiclad Curly3S  As a long-time resident of the City of Atlanta, my family and I have the honor of paying for the Arthur Blank Kassim Reed Mercedes Benz Falcons stadium – directly or indirectly. We drive around on pock-marked streets and roads, and vehicles actually have to swerve to miss potholes. We even passed a referendum to repair our Third World roadways, but so far – not much is happening. If you’re not a developer but just a lowly taxpayer in Kassim’s City, you’re pretty much a nobody. As for crime, those of us in the city regularly experience vandalism and break ins. That’s if we’re lucky and can avoid home invasion or bodily injury. When we retire, we’re outta here.Report

    Reply
  9. Wormser Hats says:

    ironiclad Wormser Hats Curly3S  I, too, am a lifelong resident of the City of Atlanta. My family’s been here since Hartsfield was Hizzoner.  Without question, it’s not the same town, it’s a city. My household has also been the victim of numerous property crimes.  Though I am also keenly aware that crime rates are regularly trending downward, we also have the mechanism of social media and real-time communications that let us know when things are happening in our communities that we never historically would know about, save for gossip and the occasional sensational news blip. 
    Now, everything is breaking news,” even the clouds in the sky.  Like you, I’m not hopeful that the cost-of-living in our city will be palatable in retirement, whatever the human-condition. I, too, have an exit strategy, but one that will let me return to town on short-notice.
    Unless you’re lodging or renting a vehicle in the city, I’m not sure how the Mercedes stadium costs directly affects your purse as a resident of the city.  Those revenues were never previously available to communities outside the urban core.  If anything, there’s a slightly better chance they’ll improve the lives of those living in the shadow of the dome.

    I definitely won’t argue with your points about the deplorable condition of our streets, sidewalks (that the city disavows), or the darkened thoroughfare’s the Reed Administration seems oblivious to.  A discussion about the merits of ousting the public works director, Mendoza, is probably best saved for another of Maria’s reports.Report

    Reply
  10. ironiclad says:

    Wormser Hats ironiclad Curly3S  We have points to agree on.
    My understanding is that stadium costs are paid for from a hospitality “kitty.” The rub is that taxpayers had no say on how those taxes were used – just Arty Blank, Kassim Reed and a few others making the decision because “they know what’s best for the city.” Politicians and the egregiously wealthy always know what’s best for everyone else. No doubt, Baby Reed had some personal gains come from the deal. All of these people are indifferent to us little guys. It would make me feel better if they would come out and say, “We hate all of you scum,” just to let us know they’re at least aware of our existence.
    The Emory Medical Industrial Complex is getting ready to over-step a decision that should also rest with the taxpayers/voters – and that is annexation to the city. The Complex is assuming control of Druid Hills and surrounding environs. Its end game is more control, with immediate gain of acquiring light rail for its commercial establishments on and near the campus. Again, taxpayers will pick up the tab with no ability to vote on the issue.Report

    Reply

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