Braves plan stadium that will raise bar
by Jon Gillooly
May 07, 2014 12:19 PM | 8149 views | 0 0 comments | 40 40 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mike Plant, Braves executive vice president
Mike Plant, Braves executive vice president
Derek Schiller, the franchise’s vice president of sales and marketing
Derek Schiller, the franchise’s vice president of sales and marketing
CUMBERLAND — When the Atlanta Braves open their new stadium by Cumberland Mall in 2017, it will incorporate the best aspects of ballparks across the country, said Derek Schiller, the franchise’s vice president of sales and marketing.

“There are going to be various nuggets or features of lots of different ballparks that are out there that will be integrated into this,” Schiller said.

The project’s architect, Populous, a firm that has designed nine of the last 10 ballparks in Major League Baseball, understands this goal, he said.

Schiller said he, Vice President of Business Operations Mike Plant and their team have examined everything from NFL buildings to hockey and

basketball arenas in their basketball arenas in their search for the best stadium design.

“There’s even elements of design that we’ve looked at that have nothing to do with sports facilities, but because we will be uniquely joined to a development, where the development and the ballpark meet is critically important in our minds, because that has to work not only really well for game days, but it has to work for non-game days, and how that operates and how the ballpark comes up against the development, and vice versa,” Schiller said.

Most people who build a sports facility focus just on that structure, Plant said.

With an accompanying $400 million mixed-use development, the $672 million stadium won’t be the only focus for the Braves.

“We understand that we’re going to play games there 91 days a year,” Plant said. “How do you create a destination — I’ve heard Tim say, ‘a new downtown Cobb, possibly’ — and to do that you have to create this energy and this sense of place, a place that people gravitate to, well beyond us just playing ballgames there. And that hasn’t been done before.”

Plant said there are great examples of success in Denver and San Diego, and now Cincinnati, which, after building sports facilities, recognized the need to create another element that operates year-round.

Concerts and food festivals

Plant listed activities from food and wine festivals to art and music events, that may take place during the 274 days of the year that aren’t game days.

Schiller said the ballpark could host concerts, but there are also the streets and the plaza areas of the property that could potentially host other events.

“Two of the global players in that space we’re in discussions with,” Plant said. “They know what we’re doing. They’re very interested in partnering with us on a big scale entertainment opportunity.”

Plant said he’s not trying to copy Disney World.

“We’re not trying to replicate Disney, with the exception that Disney draws people from a long, long way all over the world, and we’re really fortunate,” he said. “We have no competition in the baseball business from North Carolina to Mississippi. That’s why we call it ‘Braves Country.’ There’s no other baseball team in the country that has that expansive, exclusive space and we’ll claim north Florida, too.”

Schiller said the franchise has not yet gone into the market to sell the stadium’s naming rights.

“We’ve received a lot of interest, lot of inquiries coming our way already about interested parties, and I would say sometime mid/late summer we should start to get that process started,” he said.

Contracts to be voted on May 27

The county on Wednesday released hundreds of pages of proposed contract language that spell out the details of a framework agreement the Board of Commissioners approved with the franchise last November.

Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the multiple agreements May 27.

While the documents remain in draft form for tweaking, county Chairman Tim Lee said in general they are what he will ask his board to approve.

The contracts range from a non-relocation agreement to development and construction agreements.

“It spells out a 30-year commitment where a few people might be around, but you don’t want 21 years in to not understand what the obligations are on both sides,” Plant said.

Lee said a team of attorneys examined the language to ensure taxpayers are protected.

“I am confident now more than ever — after having gone through this process with developing these long forms that are an extension of the (memorandum of understanding) and the modeling we’ve done —that this is most definitely in the best interest for Cobb County today and for decades to come,” Lee said.

County Manager David Hankerson said to remember the agreements are still in draft form.

“But at the same time from the day of the MOU in November, I’m more comfortable because the details are in these documents,” Hankerson said. “The MOU is a broad document that set the perimeters that was voted on by the board that was put out to the public. Now that we’re into the details to define that relationship for 30 years, I’m more confident today. I’m excited about the Braves, but I’m more excited about the economic development and the halo effect that I think is going to bring, the long-term benefit to the taxpayers of this county.”

After May 27, Lee said the next big event is to begin the bond validation process next month.

The Cobb Planning Commission votes on the proposed zoning for the mixed-use development July 1, followed by a final vote by commissioners on the zoning request July 15.

What will it cost?

The Cobb-Marietta Coliseum & Exhibit Hall Authority plans to begin the bond validation process next month.

Jim Pehrson, Cobb’s finance director, said the county’s portion and Braves’ portion of the stadium’s cost haven’t changed since November.

The split is still $300 million from the county and $372 million from the Braves, with an additional $35 million commitment from the county for capital maintenance costs.

The county plans to move forward with a $368 million bond issuance to finance the stadium.

“Based on current market conditions, it is anticipated that the debt services on 30-year bonds will amount to approximately $24 million per year,” Pehrson said.

“Of this amount, the Braves will make annual payments to the county of $6.1 million and the county will provide funding for the remaining $17.9 million. Total 30-year payments on the bonds will amount to $537 from the county and $183 from the Braves for a total 30-year-debt service amount of $720 million.”

While there’s been chatter about the Braves’ owner, Liberty Media, selling the franchise, Plant and Schiller said that’s always been the case.

“That’s been scuttlebutt from … the first day in 2007 Liberty owned it, and we’ve heard it from that day forward,” Plant said.

Schiller believes Liberty is “extremely happy with everything our executive team, our entire franchise has done for them, and I don’t want to speak for them, but they feel good about this.”

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