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Access easy with plans in place

Traffic patterns developed to clear concerns

Nov. 14, 2014

Part IV of IV: By Jared Burleyson

Read Part III | Read Part II | Read Part I
Watch: SunTrust Park, Year 1 time lapse »

As the one-year anniversary of the Atlanta Braves' announcement to move to a new world-class ballpark and adjacent mixed-use development passes, Executive Vice President of Business Operations Mike Plant and Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing Derek Schiller sat down to discuss the move and the progress made over the past 12 months. The two are just a pair of the many executives and partners who are working to bring this project to fruition.

It's been a year since the Atlanta Braves announced their intentions to open SunTrust Park in April 2017, providing their fans with a unique ballpark experience and a wealth of entertainment, retail and dining options in one combined community. While the vision is grand, some natural challenges have risen.

From the moment the move was announced, many had questions regarding traffic and parking around the new ballpark. The Braves, though, have a plan, and it started by examining where the team is now.

"We looked at the challenges that we've experienced at Turner Field for the past 18 years and identified what those were, what made it difficult for fans to get to games in a more expedient manner, in a more efficient manner, and we combined that knowledge with a team of experts," said Mike Plant, Braves executive vice president of business operations. "We've got a great team of traffic experts including Kimley-Horn and JLL working closely with Cobb's Department of Transportation and the GDOT (Georgia Department of Transportation).

"We're not just doing this by taking some maps out and saying, 'Hey, let's figure out how to take care of our transit, transportation and parking plan.'"

The data collected by the team of experts was submitted to the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) as part of a Developments of Regional Impact (DRI) study.

It starts with the simple ideology that a smaller ballpark means fewer people on the road. SunTrust Park will seat 41,500 people, a 20-percent reduction in the number of seats at Turner Field and more than 9,000 fewer seats in total. To accommodate those fans, the Braves will own or lease approximately 10,000 parking spots on and adjacent to the site by Opening Day of 2017. They also expect to have thousands of additional spaces within walking distance of the complex. The opportunity for fans to live, stay and work in the mixed-use area should also further reduce the number of cars arriving on site.

SunTrust Park - Transportation map

Before fans can park, though, they have to arrive. Traffic experts identified 17 different access points for SunTrust Park and the mixed-use development, including six from the east (Akers Mill, I-285, Interstate North Parkway, Terrell Mill Road, Windy Hill Road and Windy Ridge Parkway), five from the west (Cumberland Parkway, I-285, Spring Hill Parkway, Spring Road and Windy Hill Road), three from the south (Akers Mill, Cobb Parkway, I-75) and three from the north (Cobb Parkway, I-75 and Powers Ferry Road). The 17 unique access points are 15 more than currently exist at Turner Field.

The location of the new ballpark is also key in that the majority of Braves single-game and seasonal ticket holders are from the area immediately surrounding the facility, cutting down their commute based solely on proximity to the complex.

"The Cumberland area wasn't chosen lightly," Plant said. "We recognized the strength of that community over the last couple of decades as it has evolved."

This evolution was carefully planned by local business and government leaders, who -- prior to the Braves' announcement -- already had nearly $1 billion worth of traffic and infrastructure enhancements lined up by Cobb DOT, GDOT and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority.

Among the improvements will be the implementation of managed lanes that will flow in the direction most conducive to relieving traffic, a diverging diamond at the I-75/Windy Hill Road interchange and widening of the bridge over Cobb Parkway and Cobb Parkway itself. The recent passage of the special-purpose local-option sales tax (SPLOST) is also expected to help significantly improve how fans arrive to ballgames.

"We're working extensively with outside agencies to now look at further improvements and determining how to incorporate all of that into our final transit, transportation and parking plan," Plant said. "It's going to be a significant improvement over how you get to ball games at Turner Field."

The Braves and their partners are committed to increasing access to alternative methods of transportation in and around the ballpark. The Cumberland area has been identified as one of the most walkable communities in the region, and this will only enhance that.

"We understand the need for not only adding sidewalks where they don't exist today but for expanding current sidewalks," Plant said. "We're working with the Cumberland CID because they have a vested interest in how people move throughout that whole area and years of history making these improvements. One of the things we've had active discussions with them about is increasing and augmenting the bike path. Looking at Turner Field, you can't find a bike rack there. At the new ballpark, we're going to be advocating people using all different modes of transportation with two wheels and four wheels in addition to their own two feet."

One primary reason for this need is that, even before adding the ballpark and mixed-use development to the area, the Cumberland District was the third densest area of corporate office and tenant use in the entire state. To help those who live and work there in addition to Braves fans coming for a game, development and engineering plans are being formulated to introduce a free, 365-day circulator shuttle system that would eliminate the need to drive within the area.

"The circulator will be accessed by people who are in that Cumberland area either shopping, staying at a hotel, working in businesses, recreating or going to SunTrust Park and the mixed-use development," Plant said. "If you're at the Cumberland Mall and want to go to the mixed-use development, you won't have to get back in your car in order to be mobile inside the Cumberland area."

While the Braves are putting time and effort into the area neighboring SunTrust Park and the mixed-use development, the club remains committed to improving the area surrounding Turner Field as well, a philosophy that won't change in 2017. It's all done with the intention of improving the city the Braves call home.

"The biggest misnomer on this project has been that we're leaving Atlanta. I think one of the things that we've come to appreciate even more over the past year is that Atlanta is the center of a thriving region," said Derek Schiller, Braves executive vice president of sales and marketing. "Atlanta is an entire metro region. We are still the Atlanta Braves. We are moving a short distance from Turner Field. That distance is important, but we are not leaving Atlanta. This is an Atlanta address, we'll still have Atlanta across our chest, and we'll still be the best representative of the city of Atlanta as we can be."

The team established an eight-acre Atlanta Braves Baseball Academy at the Villages at Carver Family YMCA in 2006, and will continue to remain involved there, as well as with the Junior Braves/RBI Youth Baseball League that provides over 3,200 children the opportunity to engage in youth sports. The Braves have provided numerous opportunities for the enhancement of education in the area since their move to Atlanta, and will continue to provide that support as well.

"We certainly wish nothing but prosperity for this entire area," Plant said of the communities surrounding Turner Field. "We've enjoyed a relationship with the community around here and have contributed almost $8 million to the three communities surrounding Turner Field. We've done a lot with education, with schools in this neighborhood, and we're going to work with whoever is selected to take this piece of property to the next level -- whatever their vision is. We're going to continue to do those things."

In all, it's been a whirlwind 12 months for the Atlanta Braves. An overhauled baseball operations department looks to field a championship-caliber team, while SunTrust Park and the adjacent mixed-use development begin to take shape. It's going to be a long, but exciting wait for April 2017.

"We have just an overwhelming amount of support," Plant said. "Our fans in the region and people in Cobb Country are excited for it, and thankfully, we've put a really good team of experts together. That's why we've made a lot of strides in 12 short months and a great amount of work has been done. We don't have a grace period and we understand that. April 2017, we're playing our first game there and we're opening up a million square feet of mixed-use development."

Let's play ball.

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