The First Quarter 1965 edition of Modern Steel Construction has marvelous article on the construction of Atlanta Stadium. The multipurpose venue served as arguably the most successful “on spec” stadium ever built. That’s to say that the stadium was built specifically to attract teams to Atlanta, which had no major pro sports franchises to call the city home. Initially, Charlie Finley wanted to move the A’s to Atlanta from Kansas City, but the American League blocked the move. The NFL was slow to approve a franchise move or expansion to Atlanta, until AFL-related parties showed interest. When the stadium broke ground in 1964, league interest was piqued and deals started getting done. First it was the Braves moving from Milwaukee, followed by the NFL expansion Falcons franchise. Both teams had a spacious, modern venue to share. The layout was akin to the Coliseum, with the lower deck seats conforming to the bowl shape. This yielded large foul territory and a lengthy distance from a 50-yard line seat to the sideline. The biggest differences between Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum were that the former was enclosed and built with more structural steel as opposed to the all-concrete Coli.
When Atlanta was awarded the 1996 Summer Olympics, local officials saw a way to reuse the showcase Centennial Olympic Stadium for baseball. To do so, the main grandstand would be built with a baseball-friendly contour. Temporary sections would be built for the Olympics, creating a capacity of 85,000. Those stands would be torn down after the games, allowing the Braves to fill in the rest of the ballpark in left and center field. Eventually the venue re-opened in 1997 as Turner Field (named after the team’s then-owner, CNN magnate Ted Turner). An outline of the temporary stands forms the large entry plaza in left field, while a wall and the outline of the baseball field commemorate the old stadium in the parking lot across the street.
After the Braves moved in for good for the 1997 season, the newly rechristened Turner Field looked like a ballpark in form and function. It had large, wide concourses. A large outfield complemented the Braves’ pitching staff, and the rounded fence was reminiscent of the old Launch Pad. Foul territory was significantly reduced. Yet one couldn’t help but feel that the stadium was cavernous. The split lower deck has a total of 46 rows, a reminder of how many seats had to be crammed in there for the Olympics. No other lower deck has nearly as many rows, including the split lower deck setups in Anaheim, Arlington, and Baltimore. The main concourse at row 30 is dark and somewhat cramped. The next concourse on row 46, airy and huge. The club level cantilever is modest, covering most of the upper section of the lower deck. A ramp in right field extends so far out it feels like it’s in another ZIP code. Including the outfield plaza, the whole site takes up 20 acres. Even the ballpark footprint alone is about 17 acres. Fulton County Stadium’s circular footprint was a meager 10 acres.
What remains is a vast, family-friendly ballpark well suited for the modern fan. The outfield has numerous play areas and attractions, restaurants with fare at many different price levels, and space, space, space. Turner Field was among the first ballparks to implement a large center field scoreboard plaza, and this one makes AT&T Park’s rendition look like an apartment balcony. Along the left field upper deck sits yet another play area called the Coca-Cola Sky Field, a synergy of adapted re-use and branding that would only be possible in Atlanta. The park lacks a signature element to distinguish it from others. There’s no contrived affectation in the outfield. The scoreboard was once the largest, but has been surpassed by others since. The skyline of Downtown Atlanta is somewhat obscured by the Delta Sky 360 Club above the left field seats. Dark blue is the predominant color, though there’s plenty of muted green throughout in the columns, trusses, and railings. And the facade has some brick to cover the concrete, only enough to make it look like someone stopped work about a third of the way through the job.
Turner Field’s real gem is the Braves Museum Hall of Fame. Entrances are along the left field concourse and the outfield plaza, the latter for use on non-game days. Admission is $2 (via a token) during games, $5 at other times, and can be packaged with a $17 stadium tour (which I did not have time to take). The museum is chock full of exhibits celebrating the franchise’s different eras in Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Boston. A statistical leaderboard displays all of the accomplishments of Braves greats, and there are lockers to honor players and notable teams over the years. There’s even a Pullman rail car that fans can enter to experience what it was like to travel from city to city by train. Of course, there’s a great homage to Hank Aaron, plus preserved dugouts and seats from the old Stadium. Best of all, when I checked in via MLB’s At the Ballpark app, I received a coupon for free admission. If you get to the game early and have time, it’s definitely worth the hour visiting the Museum can easily take up.
The only public transit directly serving the ballpark is local bus. The Georgia State MARTA station is the closest at 1 mile away. A better choice is to take the free ballpark shuttle for MARTA riders, which originates at the ever sad Underground Atlanta mall adjacent to the Five Points station. It’s basically set up for fans to walk through the mall and perhaps pick up something before boarding the shuttle to the ballpark. The ride takes 10 minutes and the return trip drops fans off directly in front of the station. My trip was such that I flew into ATL in the morning, took the Red (or Yellow) line to Five Points, then the shuttle to the park. Cost was $2.50 each way, plus $1 for the Clipper-like Breeze card used for area transit. Simple enough.
Turner Field improved on Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in many of the same ways other cookie-cutter-cursed cities had their ballpark experiences enhanced. While Turner isn’t as intimate as PNC or as distinctive as AT&T or Camden Yards, it’s comfortable and has good sight lines and food. More importantly, it stands as an innovative example of stadium re-use and financing, since the whole thing was paid for with Olympic sponsorship dollars. That’s not a point the casual fan will care about. For a stadium geek like me it’s a bonus point. By those measures Turner Field is a major success, and finally a permanent baseball-only home for a once-nomadic franchise.