Braves in our backyard
AAA team relocating from Richmond to Gwinnett

LAWRENCEVILLE - The Braves have stepped up to the plate, fulfilling Gwinnett's dream of hosting minor league baseball.

Officials are expected to announce a deal today to move the Braves' Triple-A team from Richmond to Lawrenceville for the 2009 season.

The deal hinges on a vote of the Gwinnett Board of Commissioners to purchase 12 acres for $5 million at a 2 p.m. meeting today.

The land currently owned by Brand Partners is located north of Lawrenceville along Buford Drive, just south of Rock Springs Road, according to a Geographic Information Services search on the county's Web site.

Commissioners did not return phone calls Monday, and Braves and convention and visitor's bureau officials declined comment.

"It will be a destination for people all around the area. ... It impacts the quality of life for people in the suburbs," said Bartow Morgan, a local banker who has interest in Brand Partners and whose brother worked out the deal.

Morgan said he lives within four miles of the site and can't wait to watch a game or even an outdoor concert at the proposed stadium.

Brand Morgan did not return a phone message immediately Monday.

"If it came to Gwinnett, it would be great," said Bill McCargo, the chairman of the Chamber of Commerce board who included a baseball team as one of the tenets of Partnership Gwinnett, a program to increase the business climate in the community. "It's one more indication we are a desirable place to live and play, and we continue to draw and redraw entertainment our way."

The Braves organization will join the Gwinnett Gladiators minor league hockey team as a local sports attraction. In March, the Georgia Force, an arena football team, will return to the Arena at Gwinnett Center after three seasons in Atlanta, and officials are also pursuing a major league soccer team for the community.

A study conducted last year determined the suburban community of 750,000 would be an ideal location for a minor-league team. In surveys, the idea received overwhelming support from the community, but the possibility hinged on the Braves organization because of the county's proximity to Atlanta.

According to sources, the Braves have been in negotiations with Richmond officials for years to either rehab or replace its 12,000-seat stadium. The team signed a lease agreement last August that extended its stay at The Diamond through 2010, but the Braves can opt out of the contract after both the 2008 and 2009 seasons.

In the study, which was completed in July by CSL International, the county was considered "one of the strongest markets in the country" for a minor-league baseball team. The market area has 1.2 million residents living within a 15-mile radius, and 27.4 percent of the households have an annual income greater than $100,000, according to the study.

The consultants proposed building a 7,000-seat stadium, which would cost $25 to $30 million and draw between 180,000 and 215,000 patrons each year. In the report, the consultants estimated a need of 27 acres for the park and parking.

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SideBar: Francoeur sees big draw in AAA team

By Guy Curtright

Staff Correspondent

Gwinnett favorite son Jeff Francoeur is excited about the Atlanta Braves' plan to move their AAA minor league team to his home county, possibly as early as 2009.

"I think it's great," the Braves right fielder from Lilburn said Monday. "I think it's good for Gwinnett and good for the Braves.

"It will be really nice to have the AAA team so close. Look at all the players who moved up and down last season or went out on rehab assignments. Now it will just be a short drive away."

Francoeur had concerns last summer when talk grew about building a stadium for a minor league team in Gwinnett. He didn't think a franchise in an independent league would draw.

"But this is the Braves and AAA," Francoeur said Monday. "I'm excited. I think this is great for Gwinnett. This is big for the county."

Francoeur, a Parkview grad, actually never played in AAA, jumping directly to Atlanta from AA. Brian McCann, the Braves catcher from Duluth, also made the move from Mississippi of the Southern League to the majors in 2005, bypassing Richmond.

Atlanta has had its International League team in Richmond since 1966 and players like Chipper Jones and John Smoltz have played in the Virginia capital.

Snellville resident Brian Snitker was manager at Richmond before becoming third base coach in Atlanta last season.

"Most teams have their AAA affiliate in a different part of the country," Francoeur said. "I think this will be real convenient."