The Braves’ new ballpark looks like a throwback stadium with its green seats, brick walls and its old-school, intimate feel.
That’s from an initial glance inside the park.
Beyond the stadium walls sits the real wow factor that could be a game-changer for the industry.
Atlanta’s new SunTrust Park is part of a 60-acre complex that will include restaurants, retail shops, residential areas, a four-star hotel and a concert hall. The $622 million ballpark is the main attraction, but it is only part of what the Braves are promoting as “the South’s pre-eminent lifestyle destination” — The Battery Atlanta.
Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred believes it’s the model for future ballparks.
Manfred told The Associated Press he views the Braves’ new mixed-use development as a “watershed” event for baseball, “like with Camden Yards in the early ’90s.”
“I think the scope of the mixed-use development surrounding the ballpark and the economic opportunity it has created for the club is what people see as revolutionary,” Manfred said last week. “It’s a different era in terms of community financing for facilities.
“I think the kind of mixed-use development the Braves have done at SunTrust Park provides a roadmap for clubs to get new stadiums built.”
Baltimore’s Camden Yards created a wave of throwback stadiums in baseball when it opened in 1992. Manfred said the Braves’ park will be copied by other teams.
St. Louis, Boston and Los Angeles are among other cities which have made it easy for fans to dine, shop and even live in complexes that includes sports venues. Manfred said the Braves took the concept to a new level.
“There has never been something this massive around a baseball stadium and it’s really an amazing accomplishment,” the commissioner said.
The Braves’ new home in the northern Atlanta suburbs is the realization of the vision the club wanted but could not develop at Turner Field. They left the downtown facility originally built for the 1996 Olympics amid some opposition.
There are concerns about traffic issues in the new location, residents near Turner Field feel abandoned and not all residents helping pay for the new ballpark are happy about the tax incentives the Braves were given to move.
Braves Chairman Terry McGuirk said the team made the decision in hopes of offering more for its fans.
It doesn’t hurt that this new complex also offers more for the bank accounts of the team and its owner, Liberty Media — the landlord for most of the businesses around the new ballpark.
“We always knew from our fans that they’d come down to Turner Field and they would get out of their car, run into the stadium and then enjoy themselves in the ways we set up inside the stadium,” McGuirk said last week. “But they always complained to us there was nothing outside. … The entire external fan experience around Turner Field was never good and we did our best to make it as good as we could make it.”
The first few home games will show if the Braves have adequately addressed the new traffic concerns at the busy interstate exchange in suburban Cobb County, which isn’t served by Atlanta’s rapid transit system.
There also is remaining unrest caused by Cobb County’s decision to commit $400 million in public funds for the new stadium.
Turner Field won’t disappear. It is being converted to be Georgia State’s football stadium. The school also will build a new baseball stadium on the adjacent site of old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
But the Braves aren’t looking back.
They unveiled their new digs during Friday night’s exhibition game against the Yankees for season-ticket holders only. Another trial run for the new stadium will come when Georgia’s baseball team plays Missouri in a college game on Saturday. Manfred said he plans to attend the Braves’ home opener on April 14 against San Diego.
The Braves drew inspiration for their development from Ballpark Village, a dining and entertainment district built beside Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
“So we started modeling that,” McGuirk said.
Los Angeles also has a large sports, entertainment and residential district built near the Staples Center. Similarly, Patriot Place is a mixed-use development built around Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
Some dining and shopping retailers at the Braves complex will be ready for the start of the season. Others will open later in the year.
The Omni Hotel, which can be seen behind the centerfield wall, is set to open in early next year. The hotel and the Comcast office building were the important first anchors of the development.
“Quickly we went from 100,000 square feet to a million and a half square feet in our vision of what the fan experience was going to be,” McGuirk said.
SunTrust CEO Bill Rogers said the 25-year naming rights deal, worth an estimated $250 million, was made more attractive to his company by the fact fans will be drawn to the complex throughout the year.
“You’re going to have people on the facility and engaging with us other than in 81 games,” Rogers said … The Battery creates a 24/7, 365 relationship that just wouldn’t exist otherwise.”
That’s what the Braves are banking on.