Remember Turner Field, where the Atlanta Braves played for a whopping 19 years in downtown Atlanta? In 2017, the team moved northwest to SunTrust Park.
So, what did the city do with the old baseball field? It now belongs to college football. In January, Turner Field was sold to Georgia State University, along with a private development team. The first game at the stadium is Thursday night against Tennessee State.
Wait, how did they convert a baseball stadium into a football one?
The optics of Turner Field were turned a bit. Where home plate used to be is now the corner of one of the end zones. What was right field ...
... now features a grandstand.
One of the benefits Georgia State had was using the same architecture firm, Heery, that’d changed the Olympic stadium into the Braves’ home field in 1997.
“We really had two objectives for people,” GSU athletics director Charlie Cobb told SB Nation in a phone interview. “One was the fact that they want to walk in and it’s a football stadium, it’s not a baseball stadium turned into a football stadium. It serves as a football stadium. And the second thing, frankly from a vantage standpoint, is we wanted it to say ‘Georgia State,’ and certainly celebrate the history of the Olympics, celebrate the history of the Braves, but we wanted the stadium to say Georgia State.”
New permanent grandstands cover what used to be right field. pic.twitter.com/DVZmcfCFIj— Jay Busbee (@jaybusbee) July 31, 2017
While the stadium now is dedicated to football, parts of Turner Field remain.
Vestiges of The Ted couldn’t be missed — the original Hank Aaron statue still in its familiar location; the massive video board still in the same place as before, now the eighth largest video board in college football; the familiar blue seats still in use; baseball decor still on some walls.
But there have been major changes, too. The Chop House restaurant/bar and the 755 Club have been renamed the State House Grill and the University Club, respectively. What used to be home plate is now an end-zone corner. The first seven rows of seats have been removed in places to facilitate football sight lines. Four new light towers have been installed behind the new grandstand along the east sideline.
“From a physical construction standpoint, we took out both dugouts,” Cobb said. “We took out 700 seats behind the third base dugout, strictly for sight lines, because it’s a flatter slope in the 100 level here. Baseball has a flatter-slope sight line was than football does. Down the first base line, we took out the first five rows for that same reason. We also took out five sections in the lower level, and that allowed us to put this connection of stands that we connect the stadium from north to south, and really give us the east sideline.”
There were some seats removed from the lower left field to make the football field fit, too. Underground, they built new locker rooms for GSU and the visitors.
“Below ground, we have a second phase to this whole project, which is the underneath space, which is what we call the football suite to build our coaches’ offices,” Cobb said. “To build our team meeting rooms and auditorium, a strength and conditioning center, a training room, and really all kind of connect that to where the Braves locker room is.”
The Braves’ locker room will be converted to Georgia State baseball’s locker room, and a new Panthers baseball stadium will be built where the current Turner Field parking lot is. That area used to be Fulton County Stadium, the Braves’ stadium before Turner.
Why didn’t GSU just move to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which replaced the Georgia Dome?
Georgia State’s football team played in the Dome since the Panthers’ inaugural season in 2010.
“It was before my time, but I know the plan was originally to play in Mercedes-Benz,” Cobb said. “And then all of the sudden, this property and this project came about, and gave us the opportunity to have our own stadium, and so it’s one of those no-brainer situations, if you will, if you can figure out how to use it and make it work. And again, it gets into the whole development piece that’s down here; our campus is seven-tenths of a mile from the stadium, so it’s really more of an extension of the campus.”
Plans are also in place to add more to Georgia State’s campus, which is spread throughout downtown Atlanta:
Housing for students and non-students, restaurants, retail, offices and a parking garage, all threaded with green space. The overriding idea is to get rid of the asphalt wasteland that isolated Turner Field from the rest of the city and to replace it with a dense urban village anchored by education and athletics.
However it materializes, it’s clear Turner Field will be transformational for Georgia State. The 67-acre site is almost as large as the entire downtown campus, which amounts to about 71 acres. The development promises to be the culmination of three decades of expansion that have seen the university bust out of the small footprint that once confined it to five blocks along Decatur Street.
Cobb adds that the school having its own stadium will be a valuable recruiting tool when it comes to appealing to local talent. One of the athletic directors for one of metro Atlanta’s counties pointed this out to Cobb while the stadium hosted high school football games over the weekend.
“He said, ‘for the first time, these kids can walk around and play football, but they know that Georgia State has their own stadium.’ And you think about it, the residual of that is the kids three, four, five years from now our coaches are going to be recruiting, and they’re going to grow up with this idea of Georgia State having their own stadium.”
“Look at this place. It’s amazing,” new GSU head coach Shawn Elliott said in an interview in late July. “You use the word ‘excitement,’ it is, but it’s so much more than that. It’s the culmination of so many individuals’ hard work and effort they put forth. what a great facility, I mean this thing is unbelievable. Our players, from our student athletes, to just the students in general, to our administration, to anyone in the city of Atlanta. What an amazing time it is. To be here and open this place up on Aug. 31 it’s going to be very special.”
How much did this cost?
Most of the money — $26 million — would go toward stadium renovations to remake Turner Field into a 22,000-seat stadium. That work, which would take place in two phases, would include a new field, covering upper deck seating, reorienting lower bowl seating and upgrading locker rooms and other areas. Georgia State would also use $5 million in student tuition money to relocate its hospitality school into newly renovated space at the stadium.
“With the history that’s here, you realize that it’s kind of the signature or that gateway monument, if you will, coming into the south side of the city into downtown,” Cobb said, “The outdoor billboard companies tell us 490,000 people go north on the interstate outside the stadium every day; 480,000 come south, so you have nearly a million people a day that drive by this stadium that says Georgia State Stadium.”