Turner Field and the sea of asphalt around it echo with Atlanta’s sports history – from the city entering the big leagues, to slugger Hank Aaron’s record-breaking home run, to the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.
But how will that legacy be preserved?
Georgia State University and real estate firms Carter and Oakwood Development, which plan to revitalize The Ted after the Braves leave, say they’ll spruce up the Olympic cauldron, incorporate Aaron’s home run wall as part of a new college baseball field and preserve other landmarks on the 67-acre property.
But there are questions beyond the Georgia State team’s control. For instance, some of those assets — namely the cauldron and a statue of Aaron — could move away from the site.
The Atlanta Braves have said they own the Aaron statute outside Turner Field and that it will follow the team to the new SunTrust Park in Cobb County. The Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority, which owns Turner Field, has previously indicated it owns the bronze of Aaron, paid for largely by fan donations.
Keisha Lance Bottoms, executive director of the recreation authority, said many details still need to be worked out, but bidders’ plans for the city’s sports legacy were key in the authority’s decision to pick Georgia State and its partners as post-Braves developers.
Bottoms said the Aaron statue is one such unresolved matter. A Braves spokeswoman said this week that discussions about the statue and other sports mementos have yet to take place.
Then there’s the matter of the wall in the former Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium site that marks Aaron’s 715th homer. Georgia State and Carter have said they’ll incorporate the monument to one of Atlanta’s greatest sports moments into a 1,500-seat Panthers baseball field planned there.
Perhaps the biggest remaining Olympic symbol on the Turner Field property — beyond The Ted itself, which was once Olympic Stadium — is the cauldron for the Olympic flame.
Muhammad Ali’s lighting of the cauldron is one of the indelible moments of the Centennial Olympic Games.
Georgia State and Carter have plans to preserve and improve the cauldron. But Bottoms said there also have been discussions independent of the Turner Field sales process about moving it within the stadium land or to a location away from Turner Field.
“The process is still very fluid,” she said. “One of the things we will be discussing not just with Carter and Georgia State, but also with our corporate and community partners, is the location of the cauldron to determine if it is in the best location to honor the legacy of the Olympics. Whether that’s at Turner Field or in another location.”
The tower — derided by some as an erector set topped by a McDonald’s french-fry box — stands at the northern end of a stadium parking lot. It isn’t in an easy place to visit.
The area Centennial Olympic Park could be one landing spot, though a spokeswoman for the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, which manages the park, has said no formal discussions about the cauldron have taken place.
Scott Taylor, president of Carter, said he couldn’t discuss specifics of the group’s bid until after a sales agreement is reached in coming weeks. But he said the development team will work with all parties to find the best way to preserve and maintain assets on the property.
The cauldron, the Aaron wall and other landmarks are included in their plans, he said.
“Carter and Georgia State have said (we) want to honor the rich sports history of the Centennial Olympic Games and the Atlanta Braves if all the stakeholders believe that’s the proper place,” Taylor said.
Bob Hope, a longtime Atlanta sports marketing and public relations guru, who formerly worked for the Braves and Ted Turner, said Georgia State and Carter executives met with Aaron to discuss ways he could be honored on the site, including a possible museum and after-school and athletic programs for children.
Hope, a Georgia State grad, said the development of Turner Field into a southern extension of the university’s campus and an adjoining private development, will add a new dynamic to the campus of what was once a downtown commuter college. It might also help the university recruit athletes, given the Aaron and Olympic legacy, he added.
“That’s where history was made,” Hope said.
Staff writer Leon Stafford contributed to this report.
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