0

Home of the Braves
County to build $45M stadium for Braves AAA

DULUTH - Put them in, coach. The Gwinnett Braves are ready to play ... almost.

Hats and jerseys for the county's new Class AAA baseball team were passed out as officials announced a deal Tuesday to build a $45 million stadium north of Lawrenceville for the team, an affiliate of the Atlanta Braves currently located in Richmond, Va.

"What started out as a dream has now become a team," said Commissioner Bert Nasuti, who envisioned the stadium less than two years ago. "I'm convinced that this ambitious endeavor is what's best for Gwinnett's families, Gwinnett's economy, Gwinnett's image and Gwinnett's renowned quality of life."

While a design will be under way almost immediately, the stadium is expected to hold between 7,000 and 8,000 fixed seats and another 2,000 to 3,000 on a berm.

Officials expect to complete construction within 15 months, in enough time for Opening Day in April 2009. Tickets are expected to range from $3 to $15, a Braves official said.

"When I was a little kid, I would have been so excited to go and see some up-and-coming stars," said Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur, a Gwinnett native. "To bring an organization like the Braves in here is going to be a big hit."

Braves vice president Mike Plant described the distance of Atlanta's Turner Field to the Gwinnett Braves stadium - which is about 36 miles - as "a long throw from Frenchy," referring to Francoeur's famed throws to home plate.

"This is a very vibrant part of Atlanta with a lot of people and a lot of Braves fans," said Plant, adding that he believes the proximity can help both organizations.

President John Schuerholz added that he expects the Gwinnett stadium to be a "premiere" facility, replacing Richmond's aging The Diamond.

Before Tuesday's press conference, commissioners agreed to buy 12 acres along Buford Drive - south of the Mall of Georgia and Interstate 85 between Rock Springs Road and Old Peachtree Road - for the stadium. The $5 million cost is being paid with revenues from the county's recreation fund, a portion of property tax bills.

County Administrator Jock Connell said the county would chip in a total of $12 million, with the rest of the construction cost coming from a $33 million revenue bond issue.

Connell said he expects revenues from the stadium - including a $250,000 annual rent from the Braves and a $1 fee for every ticket sold - to cover the debt payments.

Both the bonds and the Braves lease will expire in 30 years.

The financing is similar to that of the Arena at Gwinnett Center, which opened five years ago and is home to the Gwinnett Gladiators minor-league hockey team. In March, the Georgia Force arena football team will also return to the arena after three seasons in Atlanta.

While dozens of local Braves fans turned out for Tuesday's press conference at the Arena ready to get autographs, some residents were upset about the stadium, which was a secret until leaked to the media Monday.

Vi Bean, who lives in the nearby Brook Forest subdivision was upset to see commissioners approve the deal without any input from the public, even though the entire community was able to help design the nearby Rock Springs Park.

"Yes, we want a AAA team, but is this the right place for it?" Bean asked why areas ripe for revitalization in the southern part of the county weren't considered. "I'm concerned about safety issues. I'm concerned about traffic. ... To say this is a done deal without any input is unconscionable."

One of his neighbors, Paula Hastings, though, brought her 9-year-old son to the press conference.

"The unknown is always concerning," said Hastings, a planning commissioner. "But it looks like it's going to be a positive. ... We can't wait for the first pitch."

While the announcement was being made Tuesday, the team was launching its new Web site, www.gwinnettbraves.com. Fans can place a $100 deposit for season tickets or get information on jobs.

Visit the Gwinnett Braves web site

BRAVES CONNECTION

A brief rundown of the affiliates in the Atlanta Braves' farm system, which will soon feature the AAA Gwinnett Braves:

Team

Location

Level

Richmond Braves

Richmond, Va.

AAA

Mississippi Braves

Pearl, Miss.

AA

Rome Braves

Rome, Ga.

A

Myrtle Beach Pelicans

Myrtle Beach, S.C.

A

Danville Braves

Danville, Va.

Rookie

Gulf Coast Braves

Kissimmee, Fla.

Rookie

SideBar: By the numbers

· $45 million construction cost

· 10,000 seats in stadium (7,000-8,000 permanent seats)

· 36 miles from Turner Field

· $3 to $15 expected ticket price range

· 72 home games a season