Georgia State wants to turn Turner Field into football stadium


Georgia State wants to turn Turner Field into football stadium

Georgia State is proposing repurposing Turner Field into a 30,000-seat football stadium and building another baseball stadium that will include Hank Aaron’s wall as part of the structure.

University President Dr. Mark Becker and Atlanta real estate development firm Carter provided the Atlanta Journal-Constitution an exclusive look at the proposal on Wednesday. The idea is more than just stadiums. They want to be partners in building an estimated $300 million development that will include retail, residential and student housing and will be paid for through a mix of public and private funds.

“Georgia State has never had these sorts of facilities for its athletics programs,” Becker said. “We are aware we’ve won three conference championships this year. The program itself is on an upward trajectory. This continues to support a growing and strengthening athletics program, but one that by no means has achieved its potential.”

Turner Field and the surrounding 77-acre area has been the subject of intense speculation since the Braves announced they were to going to build a new stadium in Cobb County that will open in 2017. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said on April 17 that he had already received as many as four proposals for the property. Georgia State’s is one of the four.

Becker said it’s too early to know how much it will cost to re-purpose Turner Field or build a baseball stadium. However, he doesn’t plan on increasing student fees to finance the project. Students will pay $46.17 per registered hour – capped at $277 per semester — to support athletics during the 2014-15 academic year. It is the second-most expensive portion of the 11 components of the mandatory student fees.

Georgia State and Carter will begin the process of due diligence in calculating exact costs for the project. Becker said the plan is to accomplish what’s proposed and not leave something out, like the football stadium, should the estimated costs increase. He said there is no back-up plan.

Becker said he would like a new stadium, as opposed to continue playing in the Georgia Dome or the new downtown stadium that will open in 2017, because he wants to provide “the real college football experience.”

If Georgia State reaches an agreement with the authority that owns Turner Field and the money or financing is available, construction on the new stadiums couldn’t begin until the Braves have moved into their new stadium. Becker said ground would be broken in January 2017.

Having stadiums for football and baseball would be steps in solving two issues for the university’s athletics department.

Its football team, which has one won game in the past two years, plays in the 74,000-seat Georgia Dome (capacity of 31,994 for Georgia State games). Even more than 30,000 in announced attendance at the inaugural game four years ago looked small in the cavernous arena.

The university tried to improve the atmosphere at last year’s games in an attempt to increase attendance. Last year the team had an announced average attendance of 15,577, slightly higher than the averages in the previous two years but still among the lowest in FBS.

A 30,000-seat stadium would be attractive to recruits, could re-energize the alumni and students, provide revenue that Georgia State doesn’t get from the Georgia Dome, and would be more in line with what the rest of the teams in the Sun Belt Conference use.

“We’ve got a lot of room to step up (in facilities) within the conference” Becker said.

One of tradeoffs of having a stadium vs. renting the Georgia Dome is cost. Georgia State is expected to pay $75,551.17 per home game to use the Dome in 2014, according to a copy of the proposed licensing agreement between the Georgia Dome and the university. The agreement hasn’t been signed.

The stadium’s proposed design would also allow it to host soccer and track and field. Softball isn’t included in the proposal. Becker said they would need to acquire an adjacent lot to also move that sport closer to campus.

Becker said this proposal doesn’t limit the work being done to raise funds to renovate the Sports Arena where the men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball team play.

Building a baseball complex that would seat 2,500 would begin to solve the years-long problem of Panthersville, a 20-acre area where the school’s baseball, softball and soccer teams play.

Panthersville is 10 miles from the campus, which makes it difficult for students who live on campus to attend games. Additionally, the facilities are old, which can hurt recruiting. The university has actively sought a solution to moving some or all of the stadiums closer to campus.

Baseball coach Greg Frady said having a new facility closer to campus would be a game-changer for the program because it could improve recruiting, player development, the game-day experience, the fan experience and it would give Georgia State the ability to pursue bidding on conference championships.

Having a stadium on the footprint of the old Fulton County Stadium where Aaron played makes the concept even better.

“My childhood hero was Hank Aaron,” Frady said. “I knew exactly where I was sitting with my dad when Hank Aaron hit the legendary 715th home run. For me to think we could build a facility in the footprint of Hank Aaron and other greats have played … that’s every coach’s dream. To think our administration and President are thinking about these things is very gratifying.”

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