The Atlanta Braves’ 42-year relationship with the city of Richmond will come to an end following the 2008 season when the club packs up its Triple-A affiliate and moves to the Atlanta suburb of Gwinnett County.
Dissatisfaction with Richmond’s antiquated stadium and frustration in the slow pace of building a replacement coupled with Gwinnett’s eagerness to land a team and construct a new ballpark was at the heart of Atlanta’s decision to relocate its International League club.
"We began discussions two months ago (with Gwinnett officials) and we have a deal done," Braves executive vice president of business operations Mike Plant said, comparing the process to the eight years of negotiations for a new ballpark with Richmond, during a conference call with Richmond-area media.
When asked if Richmond’s inability to bring in a new stadium was the reason the team is leaving town, Plant replied that "pretty much sums it up."
"Look at the fact that we will be playing baseball in a brand new facility in April 2009," Plant said.
The deal was cemented Tuesday afternoon when the Gwinnett County Commission purchased a 12-acre parcel of land from a private owner for $5 million and signed a 30-year lease with the Braves. The county agreed to build an estimated $38 million stadium, with construction slated to begin in April and completed by March 2009. The Braves will pay the county $250,000 a year to rent the stadium.
Plant said the team will be called the Gwinnett Braves and that he does not anticipate any problems attracting a fan base in a market with a major league club just 30 miles away.
The Braves had been in discussions for eight years with Richmond officials regarding a new ballpark or a renovation of The Diamond, which was built in 1985 and is the third-oldest stadium in the 14-team International League. Plant described it as "probably the worst facility in Triple-A baseball today."
"We weren’t servicing our fans and we weren’t servicing our players," Plant said.
Despite Richmond officials announcing on Monday a plan for a 60-acre downtown renovation that would include demolishing The Diamond and building a new 8,000-seat stadium., Plant said that he "didn’t see a clear end in sight" to the process.
"We’ve had a lot of delays and lack of clarity in financing," Plant said.
Even with the team’s sudden departure, Plant said the Braves look back fondly on their relationship with Richmond.
"We’ve got a lot of loyal fans and great support in the community," Plant said. "It is never an easy decision when you have to vacate a place when you have had that much history and that many positive experiences. This decision was not an easy one. We have a lot of emotional attachment to the community."