After Decades, Braves To Move To Suburban Atlanta

The Atlanta Braves will abandon downtown for a new stadium in suburban Cobb County. The Braves have played in the city for almost 50 years, and the news came as a big shock to residents.

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Atlanta's Major League Baseball team announced this week it will move out of the city that's been its home for almost 50 years, and into a nearby suburb. The new home of the Braves came as a big shock to many Atlanta residents.

As NPR's Kathy Lohr reports, the city says it just could not afford the price the Braves were demanding to keep them playing at Turner Field.

KATHY LOHR, BYLINE: Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed says he negotiated with the Braves for a year and a half, before the team's management announced a decision to move out of downtown to Cobb County, Georgia.

MAYOR KASIM REED: I don't' want folks at home to think that we were taking the investment in the Atlanta Braves lightly. We weren't at all. We wanted the Braves to stay in Atlanta.

LOHR: But Reed says the team wanted the city to pay for hundreds of millions of dollars in improvements, money he says Atlanta and its taxpayers couldn't come up with.

REED: The bottom line is that the city was presented with a choice. And that choice was encumbering between 150 million to $250 million in debt and not having money to do anything else.

LOHR: Reed just finished putting together a more than $1 billion deal to keep the Atlanta Falcons football stadium downtown. Private financing will cover 80 percent of that mega project. But the mayor said the Braves' demands were quote, "very aggressive."

So on Monday, the Major League Baseball team said it's building a $670 million stadium on 60 acres northwest of Atlanta. In a statement, Braves President John Schuerholz said the current facility needs hundreds of millions of dollars in renovations and has parking and logistical problems.

JOHN SCHUERHOLZ: That massive investment would not do anything to improve access or the fan experience.

LOHR: There's no rail line to Turner Field in Atlanta. But then again, there's no rail service in Cobb County either.

(SOUNDBITE OF VEHICLES)

LOHR: Just south of the stadium, off Hank Aaron Drive, you can see Turner Field and Georgia's gleaming gold capitol dome in the distance. Tanya Jones says she fears the Braves decision to move out will kill this neighborhood that's already struggling.

TANYA JONES: If you can look around, you see all of these empty houses, empty apartments, empty buildings where there could be businesses. No one can survive on this side of town anymore because they keep taking the business away.

LOHR: And inside a local convenience store, truck driver Arturo Glass and security guard Yoshi Douglas say losing the Braves will hurt the city.

ARTURO GLASS: This is the heart. Downtown is the heart of the city. If you kill the heartbeat, that's it.

YOSHI DOUGLAS: That's it.

GLASS: There's nothing left.

LOHR: But the Braves organization says it's moving in part to be closer to its core fans who buy tickets to the games. Officials are mulling over what this means for Cobb County.

BOB OTT: There's a lot of people that are very, very excited and very happy. And there's a lot of people that are very concerned.

LOHR: That's County Commissioner Bob Ott. The new stadium will be in his district. He says the deal should attract several hotels to the area where Interstates 75 and 285 intersect. The project is also expected to bring in 4,000 full and part time jobs when the stadium is complete. And Ott recognizes that a lot is still unknown including how much money the county will kick in.

OTT: We got to deal with traffic. We got to make sure the financial package, you know, is something that's good for the county, good for the citizens. If everything works out, I think it's a tremendous opportunity for the county.

LOHR: A financing plan is due later this week and the Cobb County commission is expected to vote on the deal by Thanksgiving. And Atlanta's mayor says he doesn't see the team moving to the county as a loss. He says after the Braves contract expires in 2016, the city will tear down the old stadium to make way for new development.

Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Atlanta.

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