Created on Tuesday, 12 November 2013 Written by CHRISTINA A. CASSIDY, Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) — Atlanta's mayor said Tuesday that the city will demolish Turner Field after the Braves leave for a new stadium in the suburbs in 2017.
Mayor Kasim Reed said at a news conference that the stadium will not be left vacant after the team starts playing at a new field in Cobb County in three years.
"We're going to have a master developer that is going to demolish the Ted and we're going to have one of the largest developments for middle-class people that the city has ever had," he said, referring to the stadium's nickname.
The mayor said Atlanta had hoped to keep the team in the city but could not afford to do so. He says the city would have had to take on $150 million to $250 million in debt to make the improvements the Braves wanted at Turner Field.
Reed's decision to let the Braves walk came just a few months after the mayor faced tough criticism for pushing through a plan to use at least $200 million in public money to support a new NFL stadium downtown. While the city made a high-profile effort to help secure a new $1.2 billion, retractable-roof stadium for the NFL's Falcons, talks with the Braves quietly broke down over the summer.
The Braves unexpectedly announced Monday they are moving in 2017 to a new 42,000-seat, $672 million stadium about 10 miles from downtown in suburban Cobb County, apparently swayed by a lucrative financial package.
Reed said Monday the city couldn't match Cobb County's offer of $450 million in public support to the Braves, though county officials wouldn't confirm that amount.
The Braves stressed on a team website that the team and the county were still finalizing how expenses for the stadium would be split.
"At no time in our discussions with Cobb County, or any other municipality, have the Braves referenced a $450 million public investment," the team said in a statement on the site. "Reports of this figure are erroneous."
Mike Plant, the Braves executive vice president of business operations, said the team has not signed a contract with Cobb County, but he's "100 percent certain it will happen."
Cobb County Commission Chairman Tim Lee said the team is working to finalize a memorandum of understanding that would be presented to the full commission at its Nov. 26 meeting.
He declined to answer any questions about public financing or the $450 million figure cited by Reed.
The Braves had made it clear for years they were not satisfied with Turner Field, located just south of downtown near some of the city's poorest neighborhoods. The team frequently cited a lack of neighborhood development, complaints about the closest MARTA rapid-transit station being about a mile away, and the inability to secure more parking spaces.
The site being considered in Cobb County also lacks any rail service. Reed said Tuesday he believes that Cobb County will need some type of rail service at the new stadium site to deal with traffic congestion. The Braves say a system of buses will be used to get fans around the site and predicted that access to the new stadium will be better than at Turner Field.
Derek Schiller, the team's executive vice president of sales and marketing, said the Cobb Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority will own the new stadium, with construction scheduled to begin next summer. The team would be responsible for any cost overruns, and Schiller said other financial details would be released soon.
The Braves immediately launched a website that said the new stadium would be closer to the geographic center of the team's fan base. Also, Census data shows the team is moving to a much more prosperous area, with a median household income of about $61,000 and a poverty level of 8.6 percent, compared to $23,000 and nearly 40 percent for the neighborhood surrounding Turner Field.
Turner Field opened as the 85,000-seat main stadium for the 1996 Olympics. After the Olympics, the stadium was renamed after former Braves owner Ted Turner, downsized to about 50,000 seats and converted to a baseball park for the 1997 season, replacing Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium across the street.
As Turner Field, the park hosted the 1999 World Series, 2000 All-Star game and four National League championship series.
Associated Press writers Paul Newberry, George Henry, Kate Brumback and Jeff Martin in Atlanta contributed to this report.