Georgia State University and a team of developers said Wednesday they want to buy Turner Field and the surrounding area and build a $300 million mixed-use complex after the Braves leave for Cobb County.
It’s a transformative vision for an underused swath of property and a city still reeling from the November announcement that the Braves were bolting to the ’burbs. It would also reimagine Georgia State, a former commuter school which has strived for years to shape new buildings and misfit office towers into an urban Atlanta campus.
The university and its development team want to convert The Ted into a 30,000-seat football, soccer and track-and-field stadium, build a new baseball park within the footprint of the former Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and preserve the Hank Aaron wall that honors “The Hammer” and his 715th home run. The plan also includes adding new instructional buildings, parking and green space.
A private Atlanta-based team — led by real estate development powerhouse Carter and apartment and senior-housing developer Columbia Residential — would build a mix of privately run student housing, shops, restaurants, a grocery store and other retail, single-family homes and market-rate apartments. There’s also the potential for senior housing.
The private development would encompass about 60 to 70 percent of the approximately 80 acres, returning the bulk of the property to the tax rolls. Other land acquisitions might be necessary to fulfill the vision, and Georgia State also wants to find a home for a new women’s softball stadium.
The walkable concept would connect neighborhoods cut off from the city core by car-choked freeways and a sea of parking lots. And it would represent profound new investment in a stadium district that has failed to draw much business or development since the original Atlanta Stadium was built there in the 1960s. It also would be a critical link between downtown and future phases of the Beltline, the developers said.
For now, the GSU expansion is only a grand vision. The process to sell the property, which is owned by a city-county authority, hasn’t been announced. The GSU team hasn’t started negotiating and no deals have been reached.
Financing would be through a mix of public and private dollars. So far, no donations or pledges have been secured by Georgia State for the project. But increasing student fees isn’t expected to be part of the financial plan, GSU President Mark Becker said.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has said as many as four well-financed development teams have expressed serious interest in the Turner Field area.
The ambitious GSU-backed plan would create a new downtown neighborhood, as well as a southern extension for a university that’s eager for a more traditional campus feel, room to grow and additional on-campus housing.
The concept by Atlanta urban planning and landscape architecture firm HGOR could incorporate the existing facade of Turner Field into the new football stadium, and the Aaron monument would be part of the outfield wall of the Georgia State baseball field. The Olympic cauldron also would be preserved as part of the project.
“We are focused on the future for the best possible use for Atlanta and honoring the history and tradition of (the Braves and the Olympics),” Becker told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
On Wednesday, Becker and the development team signed an exclusive partnership agreement. They came forward Wednesday because they said they could not do any more due diligence without the public becoming aware. They also said they wanted the broader public to know of their interest.
Scott Taylor, president of Carter, said the team wants surrounding neighborhoods, including Summerhill, Mechanicsville and Grant Park, to weigh in on the vision and help them craft a plan that gels with the community.
Taylor said his firm approached Georgia State in January with an idea.
“The neighborhoods’ input is incredibly important,” Taylor said. “Mayor Reed has a vision for this area and that is very important. And this plan has the makings of something unique.”
The development team has briefed Gov. Nathan Deal and the Board of Regents for the University System of Georgia.
Carla Smith, the city councilwoman who represents the Turner Field area, said community leaders need to meet with interested developers and be engaged in the process.
“I would imagine there are going to be many, many, many ideas,” she said. “I support our neighborhoods.”
GSU, as one of the state’s largest public universities, has had little trouble obtaining bonds or other financing to build new facilities. Within the past year, the college has purchased the 55 Park Place building and began construction on a new law school building.
Having the university as part of the development team for this latest project is a major advantage, said Noel Khalil, Columbia Residential’s CEO.
“None of us are in the business of not being competitive. We’re not involved in projects for exercise,” Khalil said.
Columbia Residential has about $120 million invested in projects within a few miles of Turner Field.
Carter also has deep investor connections, has developed 85 million square feet of projects nationwide and is a veteran of mixed-use, urban infill and university-oriented development.
Mayor Reed has said he wants the Braves, who plan to play ball in their new Cobb home by the start of the 2017 season, to notify the city whether they intend to exercise options to extend their lease, because the city is ready to act on development proposals from the private sector.
The lease allows the Braves until Jan. 1, 2016, to officially give notice to the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority of whether they will exercise their right for an extension.
The Braves’ Turner Field lease expires Dec. 31, 2016. Beyond that, the lease gives the Braves options to extend for four successive five-year periods.
It is unclear what the timeline might be for the authority to sell the property. But if Georgia State and the development team are successful, they would like to break ground by January 2017.
During a Wednesday interview, Reed stopped short of endorsing Georgia State as the lead option among the four development teams now at the table. Still, the mayor praised the impact of the university as a downtown player.
“Everywhere Georgia State has gone in the city, they have been a very good neighbor,” he said, adding that it helps to have a public conversation about the future of the impacted communities.
The three other development teams Reed said have expressed interest have not made their proposals public.
Braves Executive Vice President Mike Plant said Wednesday that he was not aware of the GSU proposal. But Plant said he thinks the university is “a natural potential tenant or owner of that space after we leave.”
Asked whether the Braves intend to wait until the end of 2015 to officially decline their first five-year renewal option, Plant said: “We haven’t had a lot of discussion about that. But that’s what’s in our lease today, so I don’t see any reason why we would probably change that.”
Some have worried the Braves loss would be a blow to downtown, although business boosters and the mayor have been quick to say they see the stadium area as prime real estate that could rejuvenate long-overlooked neighborhoods.
After the Braves announced their departure in November, a brooding Reed said the city would raze The Ted and Atlanta would “have one of the largest developments for middle-class people that the city has ever had.”
A.J. Robinson, who heads Central Atlanta Progress, said the plan is an “exciting” early option among many.
“There’s still much to be discussed, but I can say that it’s good people are thinking about creative ways to use the property,” Robinson said. “Georgia State is a major player in our downtown community … I’m glad they are thinking out of the box.”
Becker, the Georgia State president, said firmly that the university has not expressed interest in another available city parcel, Underground Atlanta. If the university and its team don’t succeed in buying the Turner Field site, Georgia State will continue to find property to grow “day by day,” Becker said.
“I can assure you, Georgia State University is not leaving downtown,” he said.
For Georgia State, which accounts for about 30 to 40 percent of the plans, the project would add potentially 1,200 privately operated beds for students and preserve and expand much-needed parking. The college is currently short about 700 beds for student residential housing.
That’s welcome news to Georgia State student Matthew Edmiston. “I don’t mind that they are building a new stadium, as long as they are building housing and other facilities.”
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Staff writers Doug Roberson and Tim Tucker contributed to this article.