ATLANTA — Turner Field had a signature event right at the start – a trembling Muhammad Ali emerging from the shadows to ignite the flame that opened the 1996 Summer Olympics. In the years that followed, the Atlanta Braves had many memorable moments of their own, from a World Series and All-Star Game to the farewells of Bobby Cox and Chipper Jones.
Now, just 17 years after it opened, it looks as though the stadium affectionately known as “the Ted” is headed for extinction.
In a stunning announcement, the Braves said Monday they are moving in 2017 to a new 42,000-seat, $672 million stadium about 10 miles from downtown in Cobb County, swayed by a lucrative financial package that was just too good to pass up.
Mayor Kasim Reed said the city couldn’t match a $450 million offer from one of Atlanta’s sprawling northern suburbs, though it wasn’t immediately clear how the county of some 700,000 people plans to raise the money or whether it will require a vote of the taxpayers.
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.”
“It was with mixed emotions that we made this decision,” team president John Schuerholz said. “The new stadium, we believe, will be one of the most magnificent ever built.”
The Braves had made it clear for years they were not satisfied with Turner Field, near some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. The team cited a lack of development, complaints about the closest MARTA rapid-transit station being about a mile away and the inability to secure more parking spaces.
The city’s talks with the Braves broke down over the summer. The mayor made it sound like the city never had a chance after Cobb County officials made their offer for a site that will give the organization more options for commercial development, including restaurants, retail, hotels and entertainment facilities.
Despite the lack of any rapid-transit in Cobb County and the stadium site being next to one of the city’s most congested interchanges – a swath of interstates that are as wide as seven lanes – the Braves insisted the new stadium could provide easier access because of a planned “circulator” bus system.
Derek Schiller, the team’s executive vice president of sales and marketing, declined to reveal how much taxpayers will be responsible for, saying that information and the length of the lease will be made public soon. The Cobb Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority will own the stadium. Construction is scheduled to begin next summer.
The Braves launched a Web site, homeofthebraves.com, 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.
Bucking the trend of pro teams seeking stadiums and arenas closer to the city center, the Braves’ new facility will be part of a 60-acre development near Cobb Galleria mall. Plant compared it to new ballparks in Cincinnati, San Diego and Houston and with L.A. Live, which hosts the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers and the NHL’s Kings at Staples Center.
“With our current location, we couldn’t control that process,” Plant said. “This site allows us to do that.”
Turner Field opened as the 85,000-seat main stadium for the 1996 Olympics, hosting athletics and the opening and closing ceremonies.
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 Stadium across the street. The old stadium was imploded and turned into a parking lot for the new facility, just a week after the city’s Omni coliseum met the same fate.
As Turner Field, the park has hosted the 1999 World Series, 2000 All-Star Game and four National League Championship Series.
Commissioner Bud Selig endorsed the team’s decision, even though Turner Field is newer than 14 of Major League Baseball’s other 29 stadiums.
Reed said he’s already been in discussions with several organizations about redeveloping the entire Turner Field corridor after the Braves complete their 20-year lease in 2016.
The Falcons are also scheduled to move into their new stadium in 2017, a downtown facility that will be built next door to the Georgia Dome. The old stadium will be leveled after its replacement opens.
Now, it looks like Turner Field is headed for the same fate.