Though the notion of a new ballpark was floated in the Atlanta Braves front office, it sounds like team brass is committed to renovating Turner Field and working to improve the 55 acres around the ballpark.
If there was no ballpark and the Braves were looking for a new-ballpark location, there’s little chance it would be built at the current Turner Field site; that’s a remnant of the decision to locate the original Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium very near (but not part of) downtown Atlanta. Back in the 1960, easy freeway access was key to putting the ballpark where it is. And when the city hosted the Summer Olympics, that freeway location — along with acres and acres of open land — continued to be an asset.
But it’s not an asset now. Turner Field is an island that’s spurred very little development. The Braves’ lease ends in 2016, so any new-ballpark planning needs to start now. It’s pretty apparent there are things at Turner Field that need addressing — in all likelihood all 50,000 seats will need replacing, as they near the end of their functional life — and if a new ballpark is not in the offing, then further improvements need to be made, like better integration with the MARTA mass-transit system (perhaps through a people mover) and upgraded entertainment options designed to bring more people to the ballpark area and keep them there longer. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
A converted 1996 Olympic stadium kept the team downtown – where they are likely to remain, given the current climate. “The appetite for taxpayer-funded stadiums is not – in 2012 – probably too high,” said Braves Braves’ executive vice president of business operations Mike Plant.
In other words, as with tens of thousands of homeowners in metro Atlanta, circumstances have locked the Braves into place. Which leaves the baseball team and its owners no choice but to build a better neighborhood.
“Now we have to create an environment like San Diego, Denver, Cincinnati, Colorado,” Plant said. “They’ve taken challenged areas and used sports arenas for really improving, stimulating some real solid development.”
That why the Braves, private investors and the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority are working on a plan to develop some of the 55 acres surrounding the ballpark, with the ultimate goal retail and residential that will keep the area active on non-game days and packed on games days. It’s the sports equivalent of infill.
It’s not nearly as glamorous or ritzy as a new downtown ballpark, but it will need to do. Absent any grand plan to solve facilities issues for both the Braves and the Atlanta Falcons (NFL), Turner Field is likely to serve as the home for Atlanta baseball for at least 20 more years.
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