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Updated: 6:05 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013 | Posted: 9:06 a.m. Monday, Nov. 11, 2013

Braves plan to build new stadium in Cobb

By Tim Tucker

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Atlanta Braves plan to build a new stadium in Cobb County and move there from Turner Field at the start of the 2017 season, team officials said Monday.

Braves executives John Schuerholz, Mike Plant and Derek Schiller, in a meeting with a small group of reporters, said the new ballpark will be built at the northwest intersection of I-75 and I-285 in the Galleria/Cumberland Mall area. They said the team has “secured” approximately 60 acres of land for the project.

The Braves said the stadium is projected to cost $672 million, including parking, land and infrastructure, and will be built in partnership with Cobb County.

Schiller said the Braves will be a “significant investor” in building the stadium but refused to disclose how much the team will spend. “At this point in time, we are working with Cobb County, and when those details of our exact arrangement become final, we will let you know,” Schiller said.

The Braves officials also declined to provide specifics regarding the public funding. “It is through Cobb County, and Cobb County will be responsible for delineating the various buckets of dollars,” Schiller said.

Schiller said there is not a signed agreement, but he and Plant said they are 100 percent confident at this point that the stadium will be built.

“Yes, 100 percent,” Schiller said.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, in a statement issued Monday afternoon, seemed to concede that the Braves are headed to Cobb.

“… We have been working very hard with the Braves for a long time, and at the end of the day, there was simply no way the team was going to stay in downtown Atlanta without city taxpayers spending hundreds of millions of dollars to make that happen,” Reed said. “It is my understanding that our neighbor, Cobb County, made a strong offer of $450M in public support to the Braves and we are simply unwilling to match that with taxpayer dollars.”

Reed concluded his statement by saying he is “excited” about potential future uses of “the land that is now Turner Field.”

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig also weighed in on the Braves’ plans, saying in a statement that MLB “fully supports their decision to move to a new ballpark.”

The Braves become the second Atlanta sports franchise planning to open a new stadium in 2017. The Falcons have a deal to build a new $1.2 billion retractable-roof stadium just south of the Georgia Dome.

“We didn’t take this decision lightly,” said Schuerholz, the Braves’ president. “We’ve played in our current facility for quite some time, and it was with mixed emotions that we made this decision because we have many great Braves baseball memories that occurred for all of us … in that facility. But we are quite enthused about where our new facility will be.”

It was not immediately clear where the process of governmental approval of the project stands in Cobb County.

The Braves have played in downtown Atlanta since moving here from Milwaukee in 1966 and have played in Turner Field since 1997.

The team officials said the Braves will play the next three seasons at Turner Field before moving to Cobb. The Braves’ 20-year lease at Turner Field expires after the 2016 season. Turner Field is owned by the City of Atlanta and the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority. The Braves officials said they have informed Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed of their plan to move.

Schuerholz said the new stadium will “thrive with action and vitality 365 days a year, not just game days. And we plan to transform the surrounding area into not only a new ballpark but a mixed-use destination.”

The Braves officials said the stadium will be open-air and will seat approximately 41,000 to 42,000 people, almost 10,000 fewer than Turner Field. Schiller said the team plans to sell naming rights to the stadium.

“We expect that by having (fewer) seats it to be an intimate arrangement for our fans and provide a number of experiences that will be different than what fans are currently used to at Turner Field,” Schiller said.

Turner Field would need about $150 million in infrastructure work, including replacement of seats, upgrading lighting and plumbing, etc., to remain viable, according to Plant. “And that’s nothing that is going to enhance our fan experience, which is very important to us,” he said. He said enhancing the fan experience would cost “upward of an additional $200 million.”

“We also recognized that what is insurmountable is we can’t control traffic, which is the No.1 reason why our fans don’t come to more games,” Plant said. “That over the last decade has grown immensely. … We are under-served by about 5,000 parking spaces. All of those things contribute to some real challenges for us that we just, looking forward, didn’t believe could be overcome.”

The stadium will occupy about 15 acres of the 60-acre site, Schiller said, with the rest to be used for parking, mixed-use development and green space. The land is being purchased from the Saul Trust, Plant said.

Schiller said the new stadium location has an Atlanta address and “is near the geographic center of our fan base.”

“It’s also important that the access around the stadium … is greatly enhanced (by) having those major road ways — I-75, I-285, Cobb Parkway — and having a whole range of improved access points and ways to get to and from the stadium,” Schiller said. “… We fully believe that the access to the site will be greatly enhanced for our fans. That starts with roadways. Today, most of our fans arrive via car, and getting to this (new) site via car from all sorts of different directions is easier.”

The Braves said they expect to start construction on the stadium in the second half of 2014. Schiller said Phase 1 of the adjoining mixed-use development will open at the same time as the stadium. He said that development will include entertainment, retail, restaurants and potentially hotels.

Schiller said “plans call for” the stadium to be owned by the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority, which owns the Cobb Galleria Centre and Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

Schiller said the Braves have agreed to cover any cost overruns beyond the $672 million price.

“It’s an exciting project,” Schiller said. “It’s ambitious, and it is in many ways first of it kind in that it links the stadium and the mixed use development opening all at the same time.”

The Braves had been in discussions over the past year with city officials about potential development of a mixed-use project around the Turner Field parking lots, as well as how to deal with issues such as traffic, infrastructure improvements and fan enhancement improvements.

“We didn’t make the progress we needed and felt comfortable with for the long-term future of our organization,” Plant said, “and fortunately we were able to identify a great opportunity and great partnership to accommodate all those things that were important to us and our fans with Cobb County.”

“The issues that were important to us were insurmountable in really working out an arrangement to go forward. So we started looking at other options… and this option in Cobb County quickly developed.”

Plant said the process “started in early July with an exploratory lunch that I had with the (Cobb County Commission) chairman, Tim Lee.”

Braves owner Liberty Media is on board with the project, Schuerholz said.

“We’ve shared all of the details with them … down to the various smallest of details,” Schuerholz said. “They’re excited about it. They’re supportive of it. … Their response is, ‘We like this. We gave you the green light to go forward.’ And we have.”

Schuerholz said he does not expect it to be a problem to sell naming rights to a new baseball stadium at the same time the Falcons seek to sell the name of their new facility.

“We think the Braves brand is a gold-standard brand, and we think it stands alone,” Schuerholz said. “We can sell ourselves. We don’t need to worry about what our competition is (doing).”

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