Lakita Woods, who works in security at Turner Field, is excited about the move to Cobb County. Photo: Jennifer Brett, jbrett@ajc.com
Photo: Jennifer Brett, jbrett@ajc.com
Photo: Jennifer Brett, jbrett@ajc.com

Turner Field area residents, merchants prepare for life without Braves

Yay! Game day! Sheesh. Game day.

It’s opening day and Amelia Fort and some friends are making a few bucks as Braves fans look for places to park. The grassy spot between a relative’s house and a convenience store on Martin Street, a short walk to the ballpark, quickly gets covered. Fort’s charm and the handy location help seal the deal as cars crawl through the neighborhoods surrounding Turner Field.

“What’s your name?” asks a guy in a blue oxford shirt and khakis after he steps out of his enormous black Lexus.

“Amelia. I’ll be here when you get back,” she says, allaying his unspoken concerns. Sunlight glints off his signet ring as he strolls toward the park, and Fort looks to drum up more business.

“Park here for 10 bucks!” she shouts to the driver of a red Sentra, who evidently didn’t hear her.

“Twenty? OK, is there an ATM in the store?”

She smiles and points him toward the entrance as his companions spill out of the back seat, all clutching Michelob Ultra cans. Keeping one eye on the road, Fort looks to entice future customers.

“Next time park here!” she calls out to a motorist creeping past the impromptu parking lot.

The parking proceeds are the plus side for folks who live near Turner Field. On the other hand, the traffic can be ridiculous on game days. Fort looks to a future without the Braves with both a glad and gloomy heart.

“We’re going to be kind of happy and sad,” Fort said. “We’re going to be sad about the part that the money and the business is not here anymore, because we’re accustomed to that. But we’re going to be happy about the part that we don’t have to ride around the world to get to our destination, because the streets get blocked off before a Braves game.”

So it is with those who live and work in and around Turner Field as the Braves prepare to move. As everyone knows, the Atlanta Braves are heading to a new stadium in Cobb County after this season is over. The team has been promoting the snazzy new SunTrust Park in video clips that air on the giant screen before the first pitch each home game, and you can buy full-season tickets for the 2017 season online at atlanta.braves.mlb.com. (Sorry, but the SunTrust seats, at $41,500 per season, are sold out. Presumably, the splendor of the current SunTrust area, such as a dedicated VIP entrance, luxuriously comfortable seats and top-flight cuisine, will follow the Braves’ most elite fans to the new joint.)

Starting next season, going to a Braves game will be a multifaceted entertainment experience, as it is part of a private mixed-use development known as the Battery Atlanta, which will include an Omni Hotel, an office tower, apartments, shopping and an entertainment venue. The Battery will have some star power, too, thanks to burger concept Wahlburgers by chef Paul Wahlberg and his actor brothers Mark and Donnie Wahlberg. The new spot is expected to be featured prominently in “Wahlburgers,” the brothers’ A&E reality television show about the business.

When fans and fame head north, what about residents and vendors, who have lived and worked around Turner Field all these years? From street musicians to vendors to ballpark employees to folks whose commodity is their proximity to the stadium, they help make game day what it is. So what happens when the games end? The Atlanta Journal-Constitution went to a few games to visit with these key Turner Field figures.

E.J. McDaniel doesn’t hesitate when asked his plans for next season. When the team goes to Cobb, he will too.

“It’s not that far,” said the French education major in his junior year at Georgia State University. He was keeping the crowd entertained long after a recent game ended, performing numbers on his trombone.

“I come out here with no expectations,” he said, as a departing fan dropped a bill in his instrument case. He’s made enough over the past three seasons to persuade him to take his show on the road: “I’ll definitely go to Cobb, no question.”

Merchandise vendor Shahid Ahmed plans to relocate as well, although he expects a “distinct difference” in the atmosphere around the new park.

Larry Miller, on the other hand, is hanging it up after more than three decades. When the Braves are done at Turner Field, he’s done hawking Braves gear.

“It’s a sad thing. I was born and raised here in Summerhill/Mechanicsville,” he said. “I was here when they first started the Braves. I remember when it took me three months to sell 24 shirts. Now, after I’ve been vending here over 30 years, all I’ve been through, good and bad, it’s just sad to see the Braves leave the city.”

Miller’s decision to exit the vending scene is momentous. First, he actually lives in Cobb now. Second, and more significantly, as head of the Atlanta Vendors Association, he was a central figure in a yearslong legal drama over public vending.

“All I ask is that Atlanta let me run my business in peace,” Miller wrote in a guest column for the AJC in April 2013, as his group and the Institute for Justice remained locked in litigation against the city after officials turned over the management of street vending to an outside corporation. A new vending program was unveiled in October 2013. A few weeks later came the surprise news that the Braves were moving.

“I just wish the city could have done more to keep them here,” Miller said. “This is my last hurrah here. I’m going to make the best of it. I am sad. I think a lot of people are sad to see them leave. Trying to get to Cobb County to see a game is going to be hell.”

Lakita Woods had a very different prediction.

“I think it’s going to be very exciting,” said Woods, who works in security at Turner Field and hopes to make the move along with the team. She’s had her job for three years, long enough to make the organization feel like a big family.

“It’s a great experience,” said Woods, who lives within a manageable commute to both facilities. “You learn a lot. You meet a lot of people.”

For those who make the switch, she’ll plan on seeing them in 2017.

“I’m ready,” she said. “I’m ready for Cobb.”

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