Atlanta Braves EVP, Mike Plant, Well-Trained for Olympian Task of Moving Team to Cobb County
Thursday, July 23rd, 2015
The first sporting event at the Atlanta Braves’ Turner Field in June of 1996 was not a baseball game, but, rather, the venue for the U.S Olympic Track and Field Trials, followed the next month by the actual Olympic Games. That irony is not lost on Atlanta Braves’ Executive Vice-President, Mike Plant, an Olympian speed skater and member of several Olympic committees, who has taken on overall responsibility for the 2017 move of the team to SunTrust Park in Cobb County.
Plant must not only coordinate this first-of-a-kind, new major league baseball stadium, combined with a mixed-use retail, office and residential development. At the same time, he still has to manage current stadium operations, security, finance, personnel and special events, attendance as well as the operations of the minor league clubs.
From the minute he awakens in the morning until often 18 hours later on nights of home games, Plant’s milestones for his marathon workday depend upon his great home team relationships. First, he relies heavily upon the close working relationship with Derek Schiller, Executive Vice-President of Sales and Marketing. Plant’s staff, which he highly regards as a great front office team, has made the same of type of commitment that he made to Terry McGuirk (Braves’ Chairman and CEO). “I told Terry that I was up for this major endeavor because we have such a great, highly motivated executive team,” said Plant. “We’ve set a standard of excellence for our communications, accountability and responsibility from top to bottom in our organization.”
Similarly, the Braves’ partners in this joint effort have a lot of expertise to offer, such as the Project Manager, JLL (Jones Lang LaSalle), a professional services and investment management firm. Still, Plant emphasizes that “we’re engaged during every aspect of the project because we’re in this for the long run: 30 years. We’ve got a vested interest on ensuring everything turns out right. So, everyone knows we’re the driving force here.”
By everyone, Plant includes the following other business partners of the Braves:
- Populous: Stadium Architect
- Wakefield Beasley: Architects
- American Builders 2017: Construction Management
- Van Wagner Sports: Entertainment Partnership Consultant
- Fuqua Development: Retail Development
- Pope & Land Enterprises: Office Development
- Pollack Shores Real Estate Group: Residential Development
When asked how often he communicates with each of these enterprises, Plant answered, “Daily, since time is not our friend. Fortunately, we are on track where we need to be, the recent rainy weather not withstanding. American Builders has been stellar. We’ve hit home runs already with Comcast, who will occupy the main office building in the complex, and with our 265-room hotel agreement with Omni Hotels. And, we have letters of intent from restaurants and retailers. We may even be a little ahead of schedule at the moment.”
Plant added, “Having one management group (JLL) to facilitate between the different partners helps to simplify matters because we don’t have to deal with multiple general contractors.”
Traffic and parking issues have been red flags raised by critics, but Plant, an attendee of 18 Olympic games since 1980, deflected those issues. He has learned to have a thick skin and has advised his staff to adapt likewise. Plant then proceeded to provide a little “inside baseball” about this topic.
“The transportation concerns for those world class events, whether in Atlanta or Lake Placid, never played out. Our impact on traffic has been overstated. For the 50 weekday games we will play each season in Cobb County, the additional number of cars represents a little over a 2% factor. Plus, we will have 17 access points to the stadium versus two currently at Turner Field.”
The new interchange being planned at the Windy Hill exit off I-75 and the in progress, $834 million Northwest Corridor Georgia Express Lane project along I-75 and I-575, will also help to alleviate traffic concerns. Highway 41 is scheduled for improvements, too. Plant said that he is very confident about the traffic and parking technologies that will come into play in time for the 2017 season. As for parking, he contends that the recent acquisition of the Genuine Parts property for more parking lot land was already in the making privately, while critics were questioning the urgent need for, and lack of additional spaces. We are still 22 months from our first game. We will communicate well in advance of that our parking and traffic plans.
Another unannounced, but currently being researched issue, said Plant, is the naming of the 74-acre, $500 million retail, residential and office space adjacent to SunTrust Park. The complex, the first of its kind in major league baseball, will include, among other things to do, a multi-use, 53,000 square-foot concert venue that will hold 4,000 spectators for 30-40 shows a year. In addition, the two-story building can be used for corporate events. A microbrewery is also in the works.
The plaza area will encompass 600 high-end residential units; the Comcast technological center, which will create 1,000 new jobs; and numerous dining and shopping opportunities. The concept is meant to create an emotional tie to the area and to the Braves for those who live nearby and for people who work there. A general manager will be hired to keep the area activated year-round.
From an economic impact perspective, the stadium and mixed-use development are eye-popping:
- Construction will support over 5,200 jobs and generate $235 million in earnings
- Annual earnings for over 3,000 Braves’ employees: $35.8 million
- More than 1,600 of those jobs will be in Cobb County
- Visitor spending: $25 million in earnings ($8.9 million of which will be earned in Cobb County)
- $28 million in sales and property taxes generated vs. $305,000 currently
- 150,000-200,000 hotel room nights per year
- 400,000 sq. ft. of retail space
- 260,000 sq. ft. of Class A office space
“Our mission and goal is to become the best, award-winning entertainment value in the Southeast and to create an incredible legacy for decades,” stated Plant. “The development also creates an atmosphere for those who wish to live and work here. Collectively with Cobb County, the Braves organization, as a leader in the U.S., will make this vision come to fruition, and we will do what we said we were going to do. With 70 per cent of the companies being from Cobb County, we will also be giving back to the community directly and indirectly. The legacy transformation will be memorable.”
Lastly, Plant reiterated, “And, yes, we will be ready to play Braves’ baseball at SunTrust Park in Cobb County as a vacation destination, come April 17, 2017.”