Braves: Aaron statue can stay downtown

The Atlanta Braves said Friday they will “no longer contest” the location of the Hank Aaron statue at Turner Field, clearing the way for the monument to stay behind when the team moves to Cobb County.

However, the team said it will commission “a new statue for all baseball fans to see” at its future home, SunTrust Park.

The Braves announcement comes two days after the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority, which owns The Ted, said it had reached a deal with the ball club to keep the bronze, followed hours later by a statement by the Braves that said no deal had been reached. The Braves said Wednesday that Aaron should be the one to make the call.

Then on Thursday, Aaron and his wife Billye told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through a representative that they did not want the decision "put upon them" and that the authority and the Braves needed to decide the issue.

In their statement Friday, the Braves said: “Nothing could be further from the character of Hank Aaron than the divisive conversations that are occurring over his iconic statue. As such, the Atlanta Braves have decided that we will no longer contest the eventual location of the statue and will instead focus on how to best showcase Hank’s impact and legacy at SunTrust Park.”

The two days of public bickering encapsulated the testy relationship between the Braves and the team's hometown of 50 years. The Braves play their final season at The Ted this year and plan to open SunTrust Park for the 2017 season.

“Our sincere hope is that the existing statue will continue to be preserved and displayed in a manner befitting his legacy as the greatest Brave of all time,” the team’s statement said.

The fate of the statue has been in limbo since November 2013, when the Braves announced plans to move, saying the new location will be closer to the fan base and enable broader development.

The authority has contended it owned the statue, while the team previously said it planned to take it to SunTrust Park.

“I am happy that the cloud of uncertainty surrounding its ownership has been removed, and we give our energy toward ensuring a befitting place and honor for him in the transformative development that awaits Turner Field,” recreation authority leader Keisha Lance Bottoms said Friday evening.

The statue depicts Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1974. Aaron played through threats on his way to the milestone, and his achievement uplifted African-Americans and brought a measure of unity to a racially divided South.

The statue was paid for by fan donations to a nonprofit. The Braves did not contribute.

Attempts to reach the Aarons late Friday were unsuccessful.

On Wednesday, the recreation authority issued emails between the agency and the Braves and portions of "Olympics-era" documents that bolstered its case for owning the statue. The Braves at that point said the team was still having discussions with Aaron, who remains a Braves executive.

Georgia State University and a private development team plan to buy 70 acres, including Turner Field, for a mixed-use development and southern extension of Georgia State’s campus. The Ted would become a football stadium for the Panthers, with a college baseball field slated for where Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium stood.

The wall marking Aaron’s 715th homer will be incorporated into the baseball field, Georgia State has said. The statue could wind up there.

Lacinda Black of East Atlanta goes to about 10 games a year and tended bar inside the 755 Club. She said Wednesday the statue should stay downtown, because it’s part of Atlanta’s history.

“They should make a new statue for the new stadium, if that’s what they want,” Black said. “I’m kind of sad the stadium is moving. The statue means a lot to the city because everyone knows who Hank Aaron is.”

Staff writer Dan Klepal contributed to this report.

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