Braves SunTrust Park construction on schedule

The ballpark is starting to look like a ballpark.

And now work has begun in earnest on The Battery, the $450 million mixed-use development the Atlanta Braves are building next to SunTrust Park.

Two years to the day after the Braves announced their plan to build a new baseball stadium in Cobb County, nearly all of the concrete and steel work has been completed; risers in the lower seating bowl are clearly visible; and brick that will be the stadium’s outer “skin” is being attached to walls beyond the outfield.

And all of that work has been accomplished against one of the tightest construction schedules in big league history, said Chris Britton, project director for American Builders 2017.

“This schedule is tighter than any other Major League Ballpark construction schedule,” Britton said. “No one has designed or constructed an MLB stadium in the short amount of time we are.”

Britton said the stadium is “more than halfway to the finish line,” on schedule and within budget, despite some unpredictable weather and other major problems along the way.

“For instance, when we started excavation of the (seating) bowl, we encountered bad soil conditions that needed to be remediated,” Britton said. “That unexpected hitch caused us to re-sequence the overall project schedule completely … (and develop) a plan that allowed us to keep the project on track.

“That kind of collaborative effort is what we’ve experienced from the outset of the project.”

Construction crews are currently working on the plaza area that will transition between the ballpark and the mixed-use development — most of which is expected to be open when the team throws its first pitch in April 2017. And now work has begun on the nine-story Comcast office tower, which will house the company’s innovation lab and about 1,000 workers.

Derek Schiller, the Braves’ executive vice president of sales and marketing, said completing the stadium’s concrete work this month and the steel in February are significant milestones.

As is securing the necessary cash.

According to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Braves’ owner Liberty Media closed on a $345 million term loan in September, and team officials also received $103 million from Cobb County bond proceeds as “reimbursement for project costs paid for by (the Braves) prior to funding of the bonds.” The county closed on a $376 million bond issue in September.

Through Sept. 30, approximately $274 million had been spent on the stadium project, with about $149 million provided by county taxpayers, according to Liberty.

Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott, who represents the Cumberland area, said the most striking development to him is completion of the steel for the light towers and the stadium’s massive video board.

“For a while there, it was just a lot of dirt being moved around and stone being crushed,” Ott said. “Now it’s turning into something.”

Cobb County Manager David Hankerson said Georgia companies have received $300.6 million in contracts, while Cobb County companies have been awarded $233 million worth of work.

Britton said coordinating the work on the stadium so it doesn’t interfere with construction of the mixed-use development will be one of the biggest challenges in 2016. Britton said it’s also a challenge to coordinate the trades.

“In 2016, we’ll be building key pieces of the fan experience, ranging from high-end finishes inside the ballpark to the exterior plaza,” Britton said.

“(We) are working hand-in-hand with the Braves and (architects) … so that the first few months of 2017 … are focused on testing and training, not on frantically rushing to the finish line.”

Schiller said work on the Comcast building has necessitated an additional crane on the site. And construction of the 16-story Omni Hotel begins in February. He said the team is happy with the progress made on leasing its 60 retail spaces — 40 shops and 20 restaurants.

“Before we’re in the final year of Turner Field, we’re already starting to announce much of what’s going on with the (mixed-use) development,” Schiller said. “We feel very confident where things are.”

Currently, there’s about 630 workers on the site tied to the ballpark plus an additional 120 working on the mixed-use development. Each worker is averaging about 55 hours per week.

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