Braves Leaving Richmond?

Little word coming out of Richmond and Atlanta regarding the Braves relocating its Triple-A affiliate after 42 years in Richmond to the Atlanta suburb of Gwinnett County. However the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that Gwinnett officials have called for a news conference this afternoon and that the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners was expected to approve a $5 million purchase of land, seemingly as the location of the affiliate’s future stadium.

Richmond officials declined to comment on the situation and Atlanta Braves executive vice president of business operations Mike Plant did not immediately return phone messages yesterday afternoon or this morning (he will be available to media this afternoon at 2:45). A Minor League Baseball official said that they have not been involved in the situation and described the dealings as a well-guarded secret.

The Braves have long been frustrated with the situation in Richmond and the need for a better facility than the antiquated ballpark, known as The Diamond, built in 1985. In late July, Plant said he was disappointed in the slow pace of the stadium negotiations and that the team had a back-up plan if Richmond fell through.

"I’m a little disappointed with the timing, that we started this process last November and that it has taken a little longer than we thought,” Plant told me on July 31.

“There is going to have to be some action that I have to see in the next couple of months, that is action consistent with the discussions we’ve had with the city leadership,” Plant continued, adding that the ballpark would be publicly financed with the Braves making annual contributions. “It hasn’t been a contentious issue. We all are in agreement and there is some understanding that a new ballpark has been our desire and the ldeaderhsip understands that a renovation is more expensive than tearing the existing one down a building a new one.”

Plant said the team does have a back-up plan if a new stadium deal falls through but would not elaborate. “We’re not just sitting around and waiting,” he said.

Apparently that back-up plan resided in Gwinnett County, which sits roughly 30 miles northeast of Atlanta with a 2006 population of 757,104, according to the census bureau.

A move to Gwinnett ultimately needs to be approved by the International League and Minor League Baseball, and is a process with which the Braves are familiar. The team moved its Double-A affiliate from Greenville, S.C., to Mississippi in 2005 two years after relocating its low Class A affiliate from Macon to Rome.

Unlike most clubs, the Braves own all of its affiliates except high Class A Myrtle Beach.

The Richmond Times Dispatch chronicles the frustration and confusion among Richmond city officials over the apparent news and the long history of the plans to build a new ballpark or renovate The Diamond. The Braves signed a short-term lease to stay at the Diamond for one year and up to three, with the ability to opt out after each of the next three seasons. Negotiations for a long-term lease stalled despite the Braves expressing a willingness to significantly increase its rent.

"We’re still at the table, at this point in time," Plant told the Times-Dispatch last month.

Check back for more updates this afternoon.