A rendering of Turner Field as a Georgia State Panthers football stadium, the cornerstone of a $300 million mixed-use development and southern extension of Georgia State’s campus. The stadium is slated for conversion into a football stadium with an initial capacity of 23,000 seats that could expand to 33,000. Source: Georgia State

Georgia State, partners close deal for Turner Field

A little more than three years after the Atlanta Braves announced plans to move to Cobb County, and a few days after the team formally left Turner Field, their old home has a new owner.

Georgia State University and a private development team closed Thursday on their $30 million purchase of the ballpark and surrounding parking lots, completing the long-simmering deal and marking a new era for The Ted and the neighborhoods around it.

“We’re delighted that the deal is closed and we can move forward with what we’ve literally talked about for two-and-a-half years now,” Georgia State President Mark Becker said.

The sale, while long-expected, is a milestone for the city and future downtown redevelopment. It’s also a win for Mayor Kasim Reed, who vowed after the Braves announced their departure in late 2013 to find a new owner and “create one of the largest developments for middle-class people that the city has ever had.”

Downtown’s freeways, the original Atlanta Stadium and Turner Field cut off neighborhoods from the rest of downtown, leaving disjointed streets and acres of parking lots that sucked life out of the community when the Braves weren’t playing.

Georgia State athletics will be one focus of the project, but so will residential and commercial development, backers say, bringing a more consistent stream of residents and workers to help support the mixed-use project. The aim is to bring back life to some of the city’s oldest neighborhoods.

Scott Taylor, president of development firm Carter, said the partners view Turner Field “as a once in a lifetime opportunity to help transform this historic part of our city for generations to come.”

“Our joint venture is committed to restoring elements to the original street grid, improving stormwater management, creating jobs for local residents all while creating a mixed-use community which combines retail, office and residential in a vibrant, safe atmosphere,” he said.

The redevelopment reaches into the nearby Summerhill neighborhood.

Georgia State and its development team announced their plans for the site during an editorial board meeting with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in May 2014. The partners, which include real estate firms Carter and Oakwood Development, were the sole credible bidder when the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority put 68 acres up for sale in 2015. The Georgia State team, Reed and the authority announced a purchase agreement last August.

The recreation authority moved quickly to sell The Ted before the Braves left for SunTrust Park, telling residents a sale needed to happen so that the facility wouldn’t become an albatross. The community, meanwhile, worked on a months-long planning effort that signaled a desire for better connectivity to other neighborhoods, retail, a grocer and denser development on the stadium parking lots.

“We have achieved our goal, saving Fulton and Atlanta taxpayers from mothballing or maintaining this massive facility, and put in place a development team that will spark new rounds of development and opportunities …,” Keisha Lance Bottoms, executive director of Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority, which managed Turner Field’s sale, said in a news release.

Suzanne Mitchell, former president of the Organized Neighbors of Summerhill, said the community has been through a range of emotions since the Braves announced their departure.

“When we started this it felt like things were being done to the community,” she said. “But in the past three years, two and a half, things have come full circle.”

She credited the Georgia State team with listening to community desires, from worker training to programs for children to improving security. They also are discussing the need for workforce housing and ways to avoid resident displacement.

“What I’m optimistic about is we are at the table talking about solving problems,” Mitchell said. “That’s very important.’

Some in the neighborhoods want a formal community benefits agreement spelling out jobs and development commitments.

Jason Dozier, a Mechanicsville resident and candidate for Atlanta City Council, said he would like to broaden community engagement beyond meetings with select neighborhood leaders. He said that would “assuage fears” about a project that will affect thousands.

The Braves closed down Turner Field with one final giant tomahawk chop and confetti on Sunday, October 2, 2016. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: Hyosub Shin/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“The powers that be need to reach out to the community,” he said.

Georgia State, whose football team has spent its first few seasons at the Georgia Dome, plans to play at The Ted this fall, and the school and developers plan classroom space, student housing, apartments, retail and a Panthers baseball field in the footprint of the former Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

The developers have said the $300 million mixed-use development around The Ted will take shape over several years.

A broader overhaul of Turner Field is expected before the Panthers play their second football season in 2018. Georgia State’s athletic offices and the school’s hospitality program also will be based at the stadium.

A new Georgia State baseball field that will include aspects honoring the legacy of the Atlanta Braves and Hall of Fame slugger Hank Aaron will be built after Turner Field is finished, Becker said.

“When this chapter of Atlanta’s history is written, I believe the sale of Turner Field will be counted among the most consequential redevelopment efforts in the life of our city,” Reed said Thursday, citing future potential retail, infrastructure and transportation improvements.

The project will become a southern extension of the Georgia State campus. Georgia State will control the football stadium and baseball field and the “Blue Lot,” where many students currently park, while the development groups Carter and Oakwood will control much of the surrounding parking lots.

Over time, the Blue Lot will be replaced with deck parking and will be available for instructional space or other university projects, Becker said.

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