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SunTrust Park begins to take shape

A mix of established amenities and new ideas will enhance game days

Nov. 12, 2014

Part II of IV: By Jared Burleyson

Read Part IV | Read Part III | 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.

Once the formalities subsided, the fun began: designing a new ballpark. In the 12 months that have followed the Atlanta Braves decision to build a new ballpark and mixed-use development in the Cumberland District of Cobb County, the blueprints for the Braves' new 30-year home have begun to take shape.

As part of their planning for the project, the Braves entered the marketplace early with the intent to sell the naming rights for the ballpark, and they quickly found a partner that shared the Braves' Atlanta roots and national reach. The Braves surprised guests at the official groundbreaking of the project on Sept. 16 and announced they had partnered with SunTrust Banks, Inc., on a 25-year agreement that includes marquee signage as well as promotional opportunities throughout the ballpark and mixed-use community. The two organizations have been partners for decades, making the marriage a logical match.

"I think it's unusual, but certainly a testament to this project and the strength of our partnership with SunTrust, that we were able to get this agreement with them completed ahead of the ballpark opening," said Derek Schiller, Braves executive vice president of sales and marketing. "It reflects well upon the matching of two great brands."

The actual design of the community found a natural starting point with the ballpark itself. Aside from site grading and preparation at the development itself, the first order of business was selecting an architect to design and oversee the Braves' new playing field.

From the crop rose Kansas City-based global architecture firm Populous, whose work in the design and development of stadia, arenas and ballparks has spanned more than 1,000 projects and three decades, focusing on technological innovation with both traditional and modern design aspects.

In all, Populous has aided in or spearheaded the design and renovation of 20 MLB parks, including nine of the last 10, and this expertise was an undeniable asset in their favor.

"First and foremost was their experience in building professional baseball stadiums," Schiller said of the decision to select the firm. "We also had a commitment from them that we're dealing with the two most experienced designers as part of our project. Usually you just get one of those designers assigned to a project and we're getting both of them, who have extremely deep and solid backgrounds and have brought a creativity and experience to the project that gets us what we need and will continue to help us stay on schedule."

While Populous has the creative license to design as they wish, input from the team of Braves executives was a vital component of where to start. The Braves looked at a few of the limitations of Turner Field and sought to improve certain components of the ballpark.

The new ballpark will house 41,500 seats, a 20-percent reduction in capacity from Turner Field which was converted from Centennial Olympic Stadium and could initially seat over 50,000 fans. The intimate configuration maximizes sightlines and elevations, placing a higher percentage of seats closer to the field than any other ballpark in Major League Baseball. The park is designed with a three-tiered cantilevered seating bowl, bringing even those seats farthest away from home plate closer to the action when compared to other ballparks.

Affordable and desirable seating will be available throughout the ballpark.

"We recognize that families with kids are a core, core part of our audience and we know we need to make this affordable for them," Schiller said.

SunTrust Park will feature a variety of premium club seating opportunities for fans from 400 at Turner Field to more than 4,000 seats. The most exclusive will be the SunTrust Club located directly behind home plate. This club will include approximately 150 seats and offer an all-inclusive, high-end experience. Right behind these seats, the Home Plate Club will offer fans a spacious upscale club environment with food and beverage included. Located above the Home Plate Club on the second level will be another club that will feature great sightlines and an intimate feel. Finally, Dugout seats are located closest to the field near each dugout with access to a private club behind their seats.

SunTrust Park will also feature a variety of measures to limit exposure to the elements. A canopy triple the size of those in other ballparks, Turner Field included, will encircle a majority of the seating bowl, while expansive air conditioning will flow throughout the concourses.

It will reside inside a park fashioned with brick, stone, glass, steel and wood accents which will offer a blend of a classic ballpark feel with modern amenities and Southern hospitality. The result will be a fan experience unlike any other sports venue. Paying homage to the natural environment, the park itself will be built into the existing topography of the plot of land, nestled into a hillside on the property. This will allow fans entering the home-plate side of the park to come in on the mezzanine level, while patrons who enter through the outfield will do so at field level. While it's all a malleable process to date, the final design drawings will be released in the next 90-120 days.

In wanting to maximize the fan experience at SunTrust Park, Atlanta's executive team traveled to more than 10 sporting venues hoping to glean ideas on maximizing space, introducing amenities and incorporating the latest technology.

The idea wasn't to necessarily observe the architecture and layout of each individual complex, but to see how the fan experience was maximized at both modern and classic facilities.

"We knew one of the primary objectives we were going to achieve was reducing the size and overall scope of our seating capacity in order to drive more amenity projects, to use more technology in the stadium and to enhance that overall fan experience," said Plant of the exploratory trips to venues across the nation. "Who was doing that the best and who was doing it in the most recent times in the newest buildings is what really drove where we went and who we saw."

AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, is widely regarded as one of the most technologically advanced modern stadiums and owns the World's Largest High-Definition Video Display as awarded by Guinness World Records. It was on the tour, as was Milwaukee's Miller Park, where the layout of premium suites across two separate levels served as an inspiration for the design of SunTrust Park.

"We're taking little bits and pieces from a variety of ballparks, stadiums and arenas that we've seen, and trying to apply it in the best practices to our ballpark design," Schiller said. "We've used the Milwaukee Brewers as an example of how a lower level suite creates a great environment for those higher-end suites, all the while keeping the suites centered around home plate, so that when we stack our middle and upper level on top, you're not moving it further away from the ballpark because you're concentrating all your suites behind home plate."

As much as outside influences aided in Populous's design, the Braves also took a look in-house at popular attractions at Turner Field and sought to incorporate those ideas 12 miles up the road.

The most notable of these spaces is the Chop House, a multi-tiered restaurant and bar located in center field and equipped with both indoor and outdoor seating. It's a popular place for the taps to flow on game days, and it will remain that way at SunTrust Park.

"We know the Chop House is a large part of the environment at Turner Field that our fan base enjoys," Schiller said. "We're going to expand it two to three times its current size, and in fact add a couple of different levels to it. One of those will actually be an on-field level directly behind the right fielder."

The four-story Chop House will rise above the right-field fence and include two party decks, overlooking both gameplay from the front and the plaza of the mixed-use development from the back.

Throughout the ballpark will be homages to the history and success of the longest continually operating Major League Baseball franchise. Currently, artifacts and archives from throughout the Braves history are located in the Ivan Allen Jr. Braves Museum and Hall of Fame which houses more than 600 items from the team's history in Boston, Milwaukee in Atlanta. At SunTrust Park, those artifacts will take up residences in a variety of locations to maximize exposure.

"Approaching 140 years as an organization, in lieu of having one centralized area in the museum where we show our achievement and our history, we're going to spread that out throughout the entire ballpark," Plant said. "We believe that's going to afford a lot more people the chance to experience the achievements of this club, the history of the club and some of the great legends that have played for the club, so that's going to be a really neat enhancement to showcase what we've done as an organization."

While Populous and the Braves executive team worked to generate a wealth of inventive and unique aspects that will create and shape SunTrust Park, one final mode of input was cemented with the development of a fan advisory board in early August. The idea of the entire ballpark and mixed-use development was created to enhance the fan experience and fan input is a vital voice that needs to be heard. The 20-member board is comprised of season-ticket holders, representatives from Braves corporate partners and community leaders from both Atlanta and Cobb County. The board has met twice already and offered input that Braves executives have implemented.

It was one of the final pieces of the puzzle, and the past year has seen that puzzle start to be pieced together.

"Beyond the administrative process of getting this project underway, we've had hundreds of meetings with our designers and project management team, especially and including the architect of the ballpark Populous, who has taken input from all of us as well as their depth of experience," Schiller said. "We've also collected information from our fans, including the recent deployment of a fan advisory committee and taken all of that into our process for making sure that we're going to build the best-in-class and most state-of-the-art ballpark that satisfies our fan base for the next 30 years."

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