For several years, the Braves have been negotiating with the leadership of Fulton County and the city of Atlanta to remain at Turner Field and improve what he described as a “horrific access problem.”
Turner Field, Schuerholz emphasized, is not in downtown Atlanta.
“It’s certainly not in Midtown Atlanta. It’s at a satellite location disjointed even from downtown Atlanta, so it’s very difficult to get to Turner Field.”
Schuerholz said he tried to get the Atlanta governments to let the franchise develop a mixed-use development around Turner Field.
“There was no traction on the other side of the table to give us help there, there was no interest,” he said. “We were told that there were legislative issues that wouldn’t allow us to own the land around the stadium at the local level and at the state level, and so we knew that the end was coming. We could not develop the land around this, weren’t going to get any help to mitigate the issues of accessibility and traffic, so we had no choice but to start looking. We had to start looking because it wasn’t going to work for us at Turner Field.”
Schuerholz related how he and Mike Plant, his executive vice president of business operations, broke the news to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed in a private meeting the day after Reed’s re-election.
“I said, ‘Mayor, for 45 years, the Atlanta Braves have had a very honorable and respectful relationship with the Office of the Mayor of Atlanta, and it served both of us very well, and it is with that spirit that we’re here today to advise you that at the end of our lease (Dec. 31, 2016), we will not be returning to Turner Field, but instead moving to Cobb County,” Schuerholz said. “And I explained to him, ‘We tried very hard, you tried very hard, no blame to be laid for anyone, everyone did the best that they could, but we found for us a very alternate, very workable situation.’”
We finally ran out of time, Mr. Mayor
Schuerholz said while Reed seemed shocked, it was a respectful conversation.
“And I said to him, finally ran out of time, Mr. Mayor. We finally ran out of time, but it takes three years to build a Major League stadium, and we couldn’t keep waiting and then find out there was no place to go, no hope,’ and that’s what I finally told him, and then we realized we had no real hope that this was going to happen. And so on Nov. 26, we made it official, and we are now partners with all of you, those of you who are Cobb Countians . . . and we’re delighted with that.”
To the Braves’ good fortune, county Chairman Tim Lee expressed interest in them moving to Cobb County. The move made even more sense when a study revealed Cobb is closer to where most ticket buyers live. Fast forward to the historic night of Nov. 26, where the Board of Commissioners approved the agreement to build the $672 million stadium down the road from the Cumberland Mall.
“So we’re most appreciative and thank you all for that,” Schuerholz said, looking at Lee and Commissioner Bob Ott, “not only for that vote, but for the vision, for the foresight of the people in leadership in Cobb County. That’s one of the things that really attracted us to this new location. We had been dealing for quite some many years where it didn’t seem like there was a lot of foreplanning or foresight or problem-solving, but rather the opposite, and we didn’t know whether we were going to find that anywhere, but we found that in Cobb County.”
Lapsed season ticket holders renewing
Schuerholz recounted how he spent the holidays in Florida with friends.
“They said, ‘Oh boy, we can’t wait until you guys move to Cobb County. We’re going to buy our season tickets again,’” Schuerholz said. “They canceled their season tickets. Businessmen, both, very successful businessmen. ‘Canceled our season tickets, can’t get to Turner Field, it’s a hassle, don’t want to deal with it, not going to go anymore,’ but I said, ‘Well, why don’t you buy them now, buy them now, and you’ll likely get better seats in the new stadium in Cobb County when we start making those available,’ so we’re delighted with that.”
In Cobb, the Braves will get to develop the 45 acres surrounding the 15 acre stadium footprint, building a $400 million mixed-use development with restaurants and shops.
“And opportunities for the customers who are over in Galleria mall to walk over that great pedestrian bridge over to our property and spend time, get to the game early, and that will spread out the traffic pattern coming to the new ballpark,” he said. “People will be able to go somewhere and do something prior to the game in an enjoyable fashion with family and with friends and showing off and being proud that our new stadium and wanting to show people that, spending some time there, not everybody arrive there at one time and creating a traffic knot which many of you deal with when you come to Turner Field. I hear it from my friends all of the time.”
Schuerholz touted the tolled-managed lanes being built on I-75 as well as the diverging diamond at Windy Hill Road.
“And those two projects are funded already, so it’s not as if anybody has to worry about, because we don’t like any taxes increased in Cobb County, especially in Vinings. So we are thrilled,” he said.
Schuerholz, who lives in Vinings, opened his speech by describing himself as a proud Cobb Countian.
“I am a proud Cobb Countian and a proud Vining — whatever we call ourselves. What do we call ourselves? “Vininians?”
Designing the stadium
This week, the Braves are meeting with what Schuerholz said was likely the two finalists for the design architectural firms to review their plans for the new stadium.
“So we’re really, really lots of great decisions to be made, lots of magnanimous decisions to be made, and so we’re making them,” he said. “We’ve got a group of senior execs that have been working on this almost around the clock now, and we feel so well placed.”
The MDJ asked Schuerholz if the Braves would be receiving any tax incentives for the new development from the state.
“What our communications and discussions with the state are at the moment will be private, and if we do something with the state, I’m sure the state will announce it and we will too,” he said.
At the moment, there is nothing to announce, he said.
“It’s not unusual, by the way. The Falcons did that in virtually every public entity or private entity that works with the state to get property or facility,” he said.
Schuerholz anticipates breaking ground on the property in April.
He was asked if he expects the increased revenues received from the $400 million mixed-use development would be used to increase the payroll of star players to keep them from leaving for other teams.
“We think so,” he said. “We’ve always put whatever profit we’ve made back into the growth and development of our team, either into the Minor League or into international signings or into signing commitments or just paying our guys more money to keep them, so we’ll continue to do that, that’s been our operating philosophy since I’ve been general manager and continues to be so today, so whatever we profit with we draw back into our product.”
Ott, who represents the area where the stadium will be built as well as the town home where Schuerholz lives, said after the talk that he thought it was clear the Braves considered themselves to be part of the Cobb County community.
“You know, they’re not just coming in here just as a business,” Ott said. “He mentioned numerous times that the partnership between the Braves and the county and wanting to be part of the community kind of referred to it as ‘we’ rather than ‘us and them,’ and I think he talked a lot about how they feel real positive about the working relationship that the county and the Braves have.”