By Maria Saporta
While watching the final Atlanta Braves game at Turner Field, almost everyone present became emotional with their individual memories and reflections of this moment in time.
For A.D. Frazier, one of leaders behind the building of Turner Field, the moment was especially poignant. Frazier was the chief operating officer of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, and he was largely responsible for the negotiations to build the Centennial Olympic Stadium, which then was later converted to Turner Field.
Frazier was sitting in seats between home and first base – a “lifetime” gift from the Atlanta Braves to him and Billy Payne, the CEO of ACOG, as a way to thank them for all they did to get them a new stadium designed for baseball.
“It’s bittersweet,” said a solemn Frazier while watching the Atlanta Braves beat the Detroit Tigers on Sunday with his wife, Claire, and their close friend, Roger Tutterow.
As the innings passed by, Frazier was swept up by the memories.
“Getting the building built was a challenge because we were working against a deadline – the Opening Ceremony was going to happen one way or another,” Frazier said. “We built it for the after-user (the Atlanta Braves) and adapted it for the Olympics. It was always intended to be a baseball stadium.”
But it took a leap of faith. The Atlanta Braves were in the middle of being sold from Ted Turner to Time Warner, and then Braves President Stan Kasten told Frazier that there was no way he could get a contract that would commit $34 million to transform the Olympic Stadium into a baseball field. But Kasten promised Frazier he would get it done.
“I went along on a handshake with Stan Kasten on a deal for $34 million,” Frazier said explaining how the decision impacted the way the stadium was built. “It was built exclusively for baseball. Twenty years ago it was miraculous that we and Braves were able to put a deal together to build this stadium.”
At one point during Sunday’s game, the Braves showed a video clip of Muhammad Ali lighting the Olympic Cauldron on July 19, 1996.
Frazier acknowledged he had questioned the choice of Ali because of the controversy that followed him throughout his boxing career. But he credited Payne for deciding in favor of Ali.
“Muhammad Ali was the most popular athlete in world,” Frazier said. “And that probably was the defining moment for the Atlanta Olympics Games.”
At one point, Frazier pointed to a structure in the outfield.
“Every time I come into this building, I think about the one life we lost,” Frazier said. Jack L. Falls died in March 1995 when a light tower he was on collapsed because an engineer had miscalculated the load the tower could bear.
But what may have been most emotional for Frazier was the fact that the Olympics had given Atlanta and Fulton County a free baseball stadium, and he is not sure the people involved ever totally appreciated the gift they had been given.
“I don’t think any other city in America has been given a major league baseball park. But that was the promise we made,” Frazier said. “For Billy Payne and for me, this stadium took a lot of our lives, and it didn’t have to be that way. I dreaded every minute of it until it was completed.”
He paused remembering how hard the public negotiations were at the time.
“We were trying to give the city a baseball park,” Frazier said. “We were not even asking for any money, and neither were the Braves after they took over. I sit here with all the memories of the struggles that the Atlanta Committee went through to get the stadium built. The best part of it was the partnership with the Atlanta Braves.”
Frazier was restrained in talking about the decision by the Atlanta Braves to leave Turner Field and build a new stadium in Cobb County.
”I regret that we are now owned by non-local, non-Atlanta entities that only care about it as a business – not as part of the heart and soul of this community,” Frazier said, adding there’s no point in looking back at what could have been. “It will be a major plus for Cobb. It’s done, and I have no doubt that it will be a splendid home for the Braves. I would much rather see the Braves in the Atlanta area rather than anywhere else.”
During the game, Frazier walked down a few rows and went one aisle over to the section where the Braves were hosting former First Lady Rosalyn Carter and former President Jimmy Carter, who had just celebrated his 92nd birthday the day before.
The Carters warmly greeted Frazier, who had managed the 1977 inauguration of the only President ever elected from Georgia, and Frazier also had headed the team that reorganized the White House and the Executive Office of the President in the Carter administration.
Frazier also got a chance to say hello to Atlanta Braves Chairman Terry McGuirk and Bill Bartholomay, who led the consortium that owned the Milwaukee Braves and moved the team to Atlanta. In 1976, he made a deal to sell the Braves to Ted Turner, the namesake of Turner Field.
The main person who was missing from Sunday’s final game was the Ted himself. He was barely mentioned in the video presentations except for a mention from former manager, Bobby Cox.
When asked how he was feeling, Bartholomay – who doesn’t look as though he’s aged in the 50 years from when he moved the Braves to Atlanta – said he was filled with emotions.
Frazier could relate. He remembered how ACOG put on the Summer Olympics for $1.7 billion, and it ended up with about $10 million in the bank to help wrap up outstanding issues.
When the Games were over, Frazier said the Olympics sold off a bunch of items, including excess stadium seats, Olympic logos from the stadium, desks, computers, etc. – netting $12 million from the sales. That ended up being the difference of the Games not operating at a loss.
“It was that close,” Frazier said. “That will never happen again. We spent $1.7 billion. Sochi was close to $50 billion. Rio was between $15 and $20 billion. Tokyo is going to be close to $20 billion.”
Looking to the future, Frazier said he was pleased Georgia State University was going to be the next owner of Turner Field.
“Georgia State has the potential to be the best owner ever,” Frazier said. “They have proven they are committed to the central city of Atlanta. They have such a genuine commitment to downtown Atlanta. It’s about creating a continuing legacy of the building as well as enhancing the neighborhood, and they’re going to do it.”
While looking over the sold-out stadium with the crowd all swept up in watching the last Braves game in Turner Field, Frazier was asked how he was feeling.
“Preparing for the Olympics is not a business deal. It’s an emotional commitment,” he said. “Twenty years later, you can’t help but reflect on the intensity of those moments.”