Atlanta United players broke in their brand-new Marietta practice facilities Tuesday with stretches and practice drills.
The $60 million Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground sits on 33 acres on Franklin Gateway and features a 30,000 square foot training facility. Six soccer pitches are available for the players, which will include not just the professional team you will see at Mercedes-Benz Stadium or on ESPN, but also children and teenagers who are part of the team’s soccer academy.
Donna Hyland, president and CEO of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, said the health care provider’s relationship with Atlanta United goes beyond just naming rights.
“These are the people who are going to be taking care of the youth academy players,” Hyland said, referring to several CHOA doctors. “These are the real stars. Because these are the ones who are going to use their world-class expertise to keep these kids healthy and to make sure that we can provide the very best health care for these kids.”
Soccer can be rough on the body, and Hyland said the doctors will work with the children to help them avoid sports injuries.
“I know for those that are my age, I bet you wish somebody told you how to avoid that knee injury when you were younger so then when you’re our age you didn’t have so many issues as we do,” she said. “That’s what these folks do, they understand the mechanics of these kids’ bodies and are doing things to prevent them from getting injuries so they can be strong and vibrant and play on the team.”
Atlanta United President Darren Eales said young players were considered at every step of the team-building process.
“Our goal from our first design concept was to make this something that would be aspirational for our young players,” Eales said. “So our academy kids are going to train on the same field as our first team. They’re going to rub shoulders with their heroes as they walk around the building, when they’re on the training pitch.”
The first team’s locker room is at the center of the facility. It is a big oval, which Eales said is intended to create unity among the team members.
Locker rooms for the academy players surround the first team’s space, with the youngest kids on the outside and the oldest kids closest to the pros. Eales said that is meant to help the kids visualize getting closer to their goal of being a part of the first team as they increase in age. The fact that the first team’s locker room features a barber’s chair and dry sauna will likely also encourage young players to do their best.
When a player is injured, he will be treated in a state-of-the-art facility with large windows looking out over the practice pitches. One of the 30-foot windows opens up like a garage door, so a recovering player can work out on a stationary bike while watching his teammates practice.
“You have that connection, even if you’re an injured player in recovery, you’re with your team members, your squad,” Eales said. “You’re not forgotten, locked away in a room that’s windowless. That was an important part of our inclusiveness.”
Arthur Blank, the team’s owner and chairman, thanked CHOA profusely for their support.
The site in question became available thanks to a $68 million voter-approved redevelopment bond which the city has used to among other things buy up aging apartment complexes on Franklin Gateway and raze them, clearing the way for developers. Atlanta United is leasing 32 of those acres from the city. The 20-year lease calls for $1 a year in rent for the first 10 years, followed by an annual $320,000 per year for the second decade. Annual rent escalates for inflation based on the Consumer Price Index.
Blank thanked Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin, who was in attendance along with other Marietta elected officials, for giving the team a home. “We were a soccer club with a handful of associates,” Blank said. “We were on the streets, we were homeless. The mayor, he’s nodding his head. We were homeless.”
Tumlin piped up from within the crowd.
“Welcome home!” he said.
“The mayor made us feel welcome home,” he said. “Mayor, I’m forever indebted, seriously, to you and the City Council for what we’ve got here.”
Blank also reserved a special thank-you for a group of fans in the back of the room, dressed in Atlanta United jerseys and scarves.
“NFL fans are definitely passionate, they’re good stuff, they’re unbelievable, they support our team,” he said. “Soccer fans are crazy.”
The supporters took this as a compliment and broke into cheers.