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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hank Aaron among dignitaries breaking ground for new Atlanta Braves stadium in Cobb County
















9/16/14, "From left, Tim Lee, the Cobb County chairman; Terry McGuirk, the Braves' chairman; William Rogers, the SunTrust chief executive; Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia; and the Hall of Famer Hank Aaron on Tuesday," AP via NY Times

9/16/14, "Braves Begin Work on Stadium Outside Downtown Atlanta, to Mixed Reaction," NY Times, Mike Tierney

"Beneath a tent erected over a patch of gravel, two dozen nicely dressed dignitaries wearing Atlanta Braves batting helmets plunged custom-made shiny shovels with bat handles into a pit of dirt Tuesday.

The elaborate groundbreaking ritual, which commenced with an opera tenor belting out the national anthem to a few hundred invited guests who munched on peanuts and Cracker Jack, marked the start of construction of a stadium that has delighted some area residents and irritated others.

The Braves stunned metropolitan Atlanta last November by announcing they would pull up stakes downtown, their home since migrating from Milwaukee in 1966, and move to Cobb County.

Some city dwellers, accustomed to the convenience of all three of Atlanta’s major professional teams stationed downtown, expressed outrage that the Braves were headed elsewhere and were doing so only after secret talks with various Cobb County officials.
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To those residents, the new ballpark may be only 12 miles from the city center but might as well be light-years away. And while Cobb County inhabitants generally welcome the new stadium, which is scheduled to open in 2017, some took offense that they were kept in the dark throughout the negotiations and that the county’s decision to issue as much as $397 million in stadium bonds was not subject to a referendum.

The Braves have said that part of the reason for the pending change of address was to gain closer proximity to the team’s heaviest ticket base, which is in the suburbs north of downtown.

Coincidentally, Tuesday’s ceremonies came as the Braves are fading out of the National League wild-card race, with a record that has fallen to .500. It also came amid the furor over the recent revelation of a 2012 email by the Atlanta Hawks’ majority owner in which he voiced concerns that his team was drawing too few white fans and separate, racially charged comments by the team’s general manager, Danny Ferry, that have led him to take an indefinite leave of absence.

The Braves, like many major league franchises, have a fairly high proportion of white fans, and the new location is closer to some predominantly white areas that are seen as baseball hotbeds.
In making the move, the Braves are also envisioning that the stadium will be part of mixed-use development that will include retail outlets, restaurants, entertainment sites and residential areas.

Turner Field, the Braves’ home for the past 18-plus seasons, failed to ignite a growth in neighborhood businesses that would induce fans to spend money before and after games.

Instead, the Braves will now fund the mixed-use project connected to the new stadium, acting in conjunction with private partners.

“It’s cutting edge,” said Rob Manfred, who will soon take over as baseball commissioner and who was in attendance Tuesday. “Everybody in baseball is watching the development closely.”

He said that a ballpark residing in an entertainment district “is much better than a stadium out there by itself.”

Ted Turner, the former owner of the Braves and the Hawks, championed the downtown area for his teams. The Hawks have remained there, and the N.F.L’s Falcons broke ground in May on a downtown dome situated a long pass from their existing haunts.

The Braves had braced themselves for less than overwhelming applause for the move.

“I don’t expect everybody to always be happy,” Terry McGuirk, the team chairman and chief executive, said. But he characterized most Braves followers as overjoyed.

The ballpark’s design emphasizes intimacy, with a significant portion of the 41,500 seats close to the field.

An independent poll of Cobb denizens conducted by the University of Florida had determined that 78 percent would have preferred a referendum on the bond commitment, while 55 percent would have voted in favor.

Citizens for Governmental Transparency, a local advocacy group hastily formed after the Braves’ stadium announcement, unsuccessfully demanded a public vote, and two individuals have lodged appeals to the state Supreme Court in a long-shot attempt to prevent the bonds from being issued without a referendum passing.

Tim Lee, the Cobb County chairman who steered negotiations with the Braves, said Tuesday a vote had been considered for the 700,000 residents of a county historically cautious about government spending. Ultimately, there was no referendum, just an agreement that the county chip in about 45 percent of the actual construction cost, with the Braves picking up the rest.

“This will be good for the region,” said Lee, who contends that the investment will pay off in increased property and sales tax revenue.

As construction crews drove earthmovers and laid massive pipe outside the tent, one nugget of news emerged from Tuesday’s festivities: The stadium will be called SunTrust Park, with the Atlanta-based banking chain signing on as a title sponsor for a quarter of a century."



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