After playing the previous 20 years at Turner Field, The Atlanta Braves are set to open up their new home in Cobb County, SunTrust Park, on Friday.
The stadium in Cumberland, Georgia has already had multiple soft openings, playing host to not only a Yankees-Braves spring training game, but a Georgia-Missouri collegiate game as well.
“It was amazing,” Braves’ first baseman Freddie Freeeman told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution following the March 31 spring training game.
“Even though it was spring training it felt like a real game today. It was definitely nice getting the energy and getting ready for Monday. And we played good baseball today, too.”
Originally known as Centennial Olympic Stadium during the 1996 Summer Olympics, Turner Field had been the home of the Braves since the 1997 season. However, despite being younger than 14 of the other 29 Major League stadiums, it had grown in need of repair. In a 2013 report, Braves vice-chairman John Schuerholz told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Turner Field needed an estimated $150 million in infrastructure repair along with the $200 million needed to upgrade the fan experience. In addition to the infrastructure repairs, Turner Field required a higher capital maintenance cost due to its structure being constructed for a two-week event in 1996.
Following the 1996 closing ceremonies, it was retrofitted to become a baseball-specific stadium, going on to host important and memorable games like the 1999 World Series and 2000 All-Star Game.
“We didn’t take this decision lightly,” Schuerholz told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“We’ve played in our current facility for quite some time, and it was with mixed emotions that we made this decision because we have many great Braves baseball memories that occurred for all of us … in that facility. But we are quite enthused about where our new facility will be.”
Location isn’t the only difference between the two ballparks. Turner Field had a capacity of 49,586, compared to SunTrust’s estimated 41,000. However, while SunTrust might hold fewer fans, it does bolster an additional 5,500 parking spaces.
In addition to the added designated parking spots, SunTrust will attempt to be more accessible to the fans. Turner Field was located three-quarters of a mile away from the closest Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) stop. Combine that with the lack of sufficient parking, and it’s understandable why the Braves wanted to move to a location more easily accessible to the fans. The Cobb Commission just recently approved the CobbLinc Cumberland Circulator, designed to help shuttle fans to and from the new ballpark.
SunTrust Park will also be accompanied by The Battery Atlanta, a mixed-use development project that includes various dinning, shopping, and entertainment options. While the Braves have control over the development that surrounds their new home, they didn’t in Turner Field. Over the course of the past decade, more and more teams have desired a situation where their arena or stadium is situated amidst a mixed-use development, giving the fans a place they can be before and after the game.
When the move to Cobb County was announced, Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed noted that while they had been trying to keep the Braves in downtown Atlanta, they couldn’t compete with the $450 million offer that Cobb County proposed.
We have been working very hard with the Braves for a long time, and at the end of the day, there was simply no way the team was going to stay in downtown Atlanta without city taxpayers spending hundreds of millions of dollars to make that happen,” Reed said in 2013.
“It is my understanding that our neighbor, Cobb County, made a strong offer of $450M in public support to the Braves and we are simply unwilling to match that with taxpayer dollars.”
Turner Field, however, won’t be empty for long. It was announced that the stadium will be converted, once again to now become Georgia State Stadium. The stadium will play host to Georgia State Panthers football and will open in time for the season opener on August 31.
[Featured Image by David Goldman/AP Images]