In 1965, Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. led a successful campaign to recruit the Milwaukee Braves to Atlanta. He would later admit that he built the city's first big-league stadium "on land we didn't own with money we didn't have for a team we hadn't signed."
It was an act of bold leadership that vaulted Atlanta into the top tier of American cities and helped set the stage for decades of unprecedented economic growth throughout the region, including Gwinnett County.
As part of the deal to recruit the Braves to Atlanta, the old Atlanta Crackers minor league team had to relocate to another market. They moved to Richmond and became the Braves' triple-A farm team. Now, 43 years later, they're coming home as the Gwinnett Braves.
Just as Mayor Allen's early courtship of the Milwaukee Braves took place out of the public eye, so, of necessity, did Gwinnett County's negotiation with the Richmond Braves. Even as a team of Gwinnett County business and community leaders worked quietly to secure the deal with the Braves, we knew we faced a challenge in building a new stadium in time for the start of the 2009 season, just one year away. If we couldn't make that assurance, there would be no Braves baseball in Gwinnett.
Building a new stadium in just a year was a unique problem requiring strong leadership and a proven approach. The Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau has a track record with such projects, and was tasked with bringing a new ballpark to the county. Preston Williams, GCVB's general manager, has overseen more than $1 billion in public construction over the past 15 years, including the building of the highly successful Gwinnett Arena.
The decision was made by GCVB to hire an experienced construction management firm to lead a design-build process to construct the new stadium. For some, this raised questions as to why a traditional sealed bid process was not put in place. Considering the use of county funds, it's a valid question.
Simply put, there wouldn't be a new stadium - or a triple-A baseball team - in Gwinnett County had we gone through such a process. The time required to issue a request-for-proposal and analyze submissions would have made it virtually impossible to have the new stadium built in time for the April 2009 opening day.
Great efforts were taken to ensure that the public interest was protected. Even before the Braves' deal was announced, we solicited proposals from architectural and construction management firms with national reputations in stadium construction. Upon review, there was very little economic difference in the proposals we received. The decision came down to experience and assurance that our schedule could be met.
The construction management firm we selected - Barton Malow Co. - has an unsurpassed record in stadium construction. It has been involved in the construction of collegiate, major and minor league stadiums across the country. The architectural firm selected, HKS, has an equally impressive record, and both companies have existing and productive relationships with the Atlanta Braves.
The design-build process has become the framework of choice for projects like this. In fact, it's how we constructed the Gwinnett arena. While hard-bids are supposed to protect the public interest, experience shows that they often suffer from ongoing change orders and massive cost overruns, defeating the purpose of the hard-bid. In a design-build, the owner - in this case, the GCVB - remains engaged throughout the process and ultimately has greater control over schedule and costs.
For each phase of the project - be it grading, concrete work, electrical and the like - the construction management firm relies on a bid process. Contracts are awarded on cost and the contractors' ability to meet the tight deadline we're working against.
There will always be those who question how deals come together when county funds are used, and there should be. I'm confident we have the right people in place and the proper framework to make this stadium and minor league baseball in Gwinnett successful. While history will be the ultimate judge of that, I do think Ivan Allen would approve.
Richard Tucker is chairman of the Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau.