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July 30, 1996

At Close of Games, Braves Will Move Into Olympic Stadium

By RICHARD SANDOMIR

ATLANTA -- After the flame at Olympic Stadium is extinguished, the 85,000-seat stadium that was home to sprinters, hurdlers and pole vaulters will turn into the 49,831-seat home of the Braves, as Michael Johnson gives way to Fred McGriff.

Olympics To refashion the most visible legacy of the Atlanta Games, workers will carve away the northern half of the Olympic bowl between September and opening day 1997 to make way for a scoreboard and bleachers inside, and an entry plaza with a Braves Hall of Fame, interactive video, statues of Hank Aaron and Phil Niekro and concession tents.

"The plaza will be the size of St. Peter's!" said Stan Kasten, the Braves' president.

Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, the Braves' home for 30 years since bivouacking from Milwaukee, will be razed and made into a 9,000-space parking lot for the new stadium.

Some seats from the northern half will be inserted into the permanent bleachers, and many others will be given away or sold. Materials from the razed half will also be used on the retrofitted portion. "The most difficult part of construction will be the time allowed for the conversion," said Bill Moss, the managing director of construction for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, which is spending $209 million to build the stadium, then retrofit it. "We don't start until Sept.1 after the Paralympic Games are over."

The Braves were in the right place at the right time when the Atlanta committee made its long-shot bid for the Summer Games in 1990. The team was peeved that the Falcons were leaving Fulton County Stadium, which they shared, for the new Georgia Dome.

The team was posturing about a move to the suburbs. "There's no question that was a possibility," said Kasten, "until Billy Payne said he'll build a stadium privately and convert if we'd play in it." Payne is the president of the Atlanta committee.

In its bid, the Atlanta committee proposed that the stadium be built for short-term use for track and field and the opening and closing ceremonies, but long-term for baseball.

"Billy didn't want a stadium that looked temporary for the Olympics," said David Murphy, the project designer for Ellerbe, Becket, the lead architect, referring to the Atlanta committee's president. "The trick was to design a modern, urban ball park appropriate for the Centennial Olympics. Baseball design was not put ahead of the Olympics."

The stadium, stillto be named, has an old-style look, with asymmetrical dimensions, high walls, and an exterior steel latticed look. But don't call it nostalgic to Kasten. "Nostalgia's a fad," said Kasten. "This is classic. We've got seats closer to the field than any of the new ball parks. Seats are better angled to the infield with our stadium."

In an era of governments often committing taxpayer resources to build stadiums, this tale is unusual: no public money was spent. In actuality, it was financed by NBC, Anheuser-Busch, McDonald's, AT&T, NationsBank, Delta Air Lines and IBM.

"This is probably the first time a baseball stadium has been built with corporate sponsors and TV money from the Olympics," said Marc Ganis, the president of SportsCorp Ltd., a Chicago-based sports consulting firm.

After the closing ceremony on Sunday, title to the stadium will pass to the Fulton County Recreation Authority, a city-county agency. But it will really be the Braves' domain, lock, stock and tchotchkes. The team will pay $23 million for various improvements, $500,000 in annual rent and $1 million a year through 2016 for capital costs.

The Braves will control all revenues and pay to run and maintain it. Into its coffers will flow everything from the sales of all 59 luxury suites and 5,372 club seats to cash from all advertising, sponsorships, stadium naming rights, concessions and gate receipts.

"Make no mistake, there are a lot of revenues in a new ball park," said Janet Marie Smith, vice president of Turner Sports Properties, a unit of Turner Broadcasting, which owns the Braves. "But it's not as great a deal as other teams have gotten in other cities."

The stadium deal seems a win-win situation because of its Olympic financing. Not only will Atlanta, Fulton County and the Braves get what is essentially a free stadium, on free land, but the remaining $9 million in debt on the old stadium will also be paid off by the Atlanta committee.

Emma Darnell, a Fulton County commissioner, railed against the deal partly for the Braves' refusal to pay for future capital costs beyond 20 years. "Our experience with Fulton County stadium is that after 20 years, costs rise," she said. "Taxpayers will be exposed."

The Braves' lease on the stadium is for 20 years with options for 10 more.

"There's no problem with Ted Turner getting a free stadium, but what do taxpayers get?" asked Darnell. "Is he getting all the benefit? It's fictional that we get a benefit."

Although critics have labeled the stadium lease a giveaway to the Braves, Peter Bynoe, who negotiated the deal for Maynard Jackson, who was the mayor at the time, said: "It was very contentious, and the Braves gave in some points. The Braves wanted it even sweeter than it is."

Kasten said that his talks with city and county officials were more grueling than baseball's labor negotiations. Regarding the city's request that the team pay rent on a stadium it will maintain, Kasten said, "What do they need the rent for, Christmas parties?"

Reggie Williams, executive director of the recreation authority, said that he disagreed with the Atlanta committee's paying for a ball park for a professional team. But given that the city, county and state paid nothing for it, he said, nobody has much to complain about.


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