In the final weeks leading up to the opening of SunTrust Park, Derek Schiller, President, Business, of the Atlanta Braves, sat down with ALSD.com to preview the new ballpark that anchors the new 60-acre mixed-use development known as The Battery Atlanta.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Let’s start with the ballpark. What can you tell us about SunTrust Park’s signature design elements?
First and foremost is the sightlines. The very first prerequisite that we gave to Populous was to make sure that all fans felt closer to the field with the optimal sightlines. The whole design is built around that. Every seat is closer to the field than a comparable seat at our old ballpark Turner Field.
There are also some unique gathering areas, some of which are designed for our family segment, some of which are for people who might come in a business setting, some of which are avid baseball fans and want the most out of their baseball experience, others the thrill of just entertainment and a night out.
What place does premium have within the new park and how does that compare to where you’re coming from?
It’s significant for us. One of the very early determining factors for us was what percentage of our seats did we want to make a premium seat. Just for the record, our definition of premium is a seat that has some level of higher value and added amenity built into it, in particular in our club experiences.
“We like to say we’re actually moving 12 miles closer to our fan base."
– Derek Schiller, Atlanta Braves
We went from approximately 400 premium seats at Turner Field, excluding the suites, to north of 3,500 premium seats, excluding the suites, at SunTrust Park. It’s really a significant increase.
We believed that [premium] was something that was really important. It goes back to creating that segmenting approach. We believe that having that level of amenities and experiences for people who may want them and are willing to pay for them was something our fan base wanted, and of course, we did a lot of research behind that.
Also importantly, on the other side of things is making sure that we still had that value proposition [for all fans]. So we have 20,000 seats, $20 and under.
What are the challenges and opportunities with relocating the team from downtown up to Cobb County?
One of the misnomers is that we’re leaving Atlanta. We’re very much not. The address is still an Atlanta address. It’s about 12 miles away door to door.
It very much is still in a huge population center of Atlanta. This sub-market is referred to as the Cumberland sub-market. It has approximately 20 million square feet of offices. It has about 35 million square feet of developed space. Cobb County has roughly 750,000 people in it, compared to just the city of Atlanta, which is about 450,000 people. All of metro is about 6.5 million.
The point is, we’re moving a little bit further away from city center, but one of the things I also like to remind people of is that Turner Field wasn’t really a downtown location in the sense that you couldn’t walk there. You wouldn’t want to walk there from the downtown hotels or the convention center. You still had to take a bus or a taxi or drive your car, so we weren’t really connected in that way. In a lot of ways, we’re actually more urban now. The density that I mentioned before plays well into all the different people and activities that are going on immediately outside of our footprint.
So we’re close to a lot of our fan base. We studied our fan base and created a heat map of all our ticket holders in Metro Atlanta, and we’re very much into the core of that heat map. We like to say we’re actually moving 12 miles closer to our fan base.
Let’s pivot and close by talking about The Battery Atlanta. It seems to be just as important as what’s going on inside the ballpark. Can you first describe for us the size of The Battery as well as what’s populating that space?
When we studied the marketplace and landed on this piece of real estate, one of the things that we ultimately did was purchase about 90 acres. Phase one of our entire project is about 60 acres. Of that, 15 acres is the ballpark, which is about 1.1 million square feet. The remaining 45 acres is about 1.2 million square feet of mixed-use development.
"We’re in as many real estate discussions as we are in about our team." – Derek Schiller, Atlanta Braves
We’ve very much become real estate developers. We’re the majority owners in all of that [development]. And what we mean by mixed-use development, because there are oftentimes different definitions, is it is truly a mix of uses. It includes 550 apartments. It includes 300,000-plus square feet of office space. It includes an entertainment venue, which is a 4,000-capacity or 50,000-square-foot music venue. It includes about 350,000 square feet of retail, which includes about 20 different restaurant opportunities, all sorts of different shopping, and then a lot of different connective points, including the main place where the ballpark meets with the mixed-use development.
[The Battery Atlanta] is very much part of our pitch when we are talking about what the fan experience is for Braves fans coming to SunTrust Park. It is master-planned together, resulting in when fans come to all 81 days of baseball plus the postseason, they’re going to have an opportunity to go to all those stores, all those restaurants, go to the music venue, whatever it might be, and enrich their experience before and after games.
And when we don’t have games, we still have this thriving community where people live, people work, people play, and do all sorts of different things. It is very unique in that it’s all master-planned together, and it is also very unique in the timeframe that we’re doing it in, which is just under three years.
We are also a 50-50 partner with the Omni Hotel brand. They’re bringing an Omni Hotel here. It will be the first 4-star, full-service hotel coming to this part of town. It’ll service all the people that might want to come for a Braves game and spend the night, but also anybody who is coming up into this corridor and wants that high-end hotel experience, with a slight branding cue from baseball and the Braves.
What’s it been like to be a real estate developer while building a new ballpark on a concurrent timeline?
It’s been very difficult. There are a lot of people who are hard at work on this project. We have relied on some of the smartest people in real estate to help guide us. We’re relatively new to this, but at the same time, we are jumping in with both feet and helping to make decisions that are good for the Braves, good for this project, and ultimately, we believe they’re good for the community.
It has been exciting and rewarding. I’ve learned a lot personally. I can probably say that about everybody who has touched the project on the Braves side. We’re in as many real estate discussions as we are in about our team. That has been extremely fun, and we’re excited for what it means for our franchise long term. In addition to creating a great destination, we know that if it’s done right, it’s going to create tremendous revenues for us that we can ultimately pour back into the baseball team.