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Reed on Turner Field bidders: Casino groups took serious look

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comment from Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

A day after news emerged that three groups, including Georgia State University, have submitted bids to acquire all or part of Turner Field, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said at least three other major firms took a serious look at the downtown ballpark.

Among them, he said, were two casino firms that failed to win his support because of community opposition to gaming.

“If we had sent a signal that gaming would have been appropriate, we would have had gaming bidders,” Reed said during a press conference on Tuesday.

Another interested firm decided against Turner Field because, under the request for proposal process, the prospective developer is asked to incorporate elements of a community “Livable Centers Initiative” (LCI) study now underway.

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Many stadium residents called for the sale of the ballpark to be delayed until after the completion of the community study next summer, but city officials said the ballpark must be sold prior to the Braves’ departure in late 2016. As a result, the RFP calls for the potential new owner to consider the LCI in its redevelopment plan.

That, Reed said, proved to be a hurdle for at least one party. He did not give details about that company.

“The LCI definitely influenced (the outcome) with another firm that would have bid,” he said. “To some extent, I do think the community hurt themselves with the amount of vitriol in conversations coming up to the bidding process.”

Reed fielded questions on the proposed sale and redevelopment of the Atlanta Braves’ ballpark a day after the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority released the names of three bidders for the property. Georgia State University and real estate firm Carter are the only recognizable names, which also include Mercury Youth Organization, Inc. and Rita World Pearl Kingdom, LLC. Reed said he is not familiar with Mercury Youth or Rita World.

Reed has publicly backed the Georgia State - Carter proposal for well over a year.

Read more about the Turner Field bidders later today at www.MyAJC.com or in Wednesday’s print edition of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Original story below:

Three groups have submitted bids to acquire all or part of Turner Field, according to the recreation authority overseeing the sale and redevelopment of the ballpark.

Georgia State University is the only widely-recognized name among the bidders, which also include two little-known entities: Mercury Youth Organization, Inc. and Rita World Pearl Kingdom, LLC.

Though Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed dropped hints of prominent suitors for the ballpark during the past two years, in the end, no other large scale development groups, corporate entities or casino interests made offers on the site.

The Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority did not release the amount of the bids, development plans, nor details including how much of Turner Field each entity hopes to acquire when the Atlanta Braves leave for Cobb at the end of 2016.

Mercury Youth Organization Inc., formerly known as the Mercury Track Club of Atlanta, formed in the 1970s to train kids to participate in track and field events. According to its website, Mercury Youth has sought to build an indoor track for year-round training in multiple sports. The organization could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Details about the Rita World organization are not immediately known, nor could it be reached for comment. No such entity is listed in the Georgia Secretary of State’s corporations archives and simple Internet and public record database searches revealed no information about the group.

Georgia State and real estate firm Carter announced hopes in 2014 to redevelop Turner Field in a public and private mixed-use development. The entities, partnering with Oakwood Development, are behind a $300 million project that includes student housing, apartments, retail and the conversion of Turner Field into a football stadium.

The Carter firmed declined comment out of respect to the closed bidding process and directed comment to the recreation authority.

Many residents, real estate and political observers have privately said a sale to Georgia State and Carter was all but inevitable given its backing by such prominent boosters as Reed.

What’s more, the request for proposals includes what some consider a nod to the Carter plan as it calls for renovating, reusing or repurposing the stadium structure “as a key asset in the development program” or to provide an “iconic replacement structure.”

Matthew Garbett, a spokesman for the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition, said he was surprised that groups other than Georgia State and Carter bid on the ballpark. The coalition represents residents of Summerhill, Peoplestown and Mechanicsville in issues related to the sale of Turner Field. Garbett said he, like many, is not familiar with Rita World.

“We always suspected there wouldn’t be a lot of bids, especially when the person making the final decision has publicly supported one institution,” he said, in reference to Reed. “I think everyone else is just very surprised and interested to see what the proposals are for these other group, and in fact, who one of the groups even is.”

The redevelopment area contained in the RFP covers six parcels, including the ballpark, totaling 67 acres of land. The Turner Field site is nearly 80 acres, but media lot, lots across the interstate and FanPlex are not included in the bid.

Many residents sought to delay the sale of Turner Field until the completion of a community study next summer. Authority officials and Reed have said the sale must move forward now, however, in order to have a new owner in place when the Braves vacate the ballpark by Dec. 31, 2016.

Keisha Lance Bottoms, the authority’s executive director, said at a community meeting in September that the study and sale process “can run parallel courses” and that the community will continue to have opportunities for input. The recommendations that result from the study, she said, can be incorporated in final negotiations with a future buyer.

According to the RFP, which was issued on Oct. 2, the chosen developer will be the one determined to be best able “to create an economic anchor that drives demand for new development in the immediate area, generates new jobs and tax-paying activities while simultaneously facilitating the long-term integration of Atlanta’s Downtown business district and surrounding neighborhoods.”

Bottoms said the bids will be evaluated and scored based on the requirements within the RFP.

Still, it remains unclear just who will have the final say on the Turner Field sale.

Fulton County and Atlanta leaders have yet to agree on whether the Atlanta City Council and Fulton County Commission must approve the sale.

Reed has said the recreation authority alone has the power to approve a development deal. Fulton County Chairman John Eaves disagrees, saying the county owns property at the ballpark and therefore has a vote.

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