Atlanta knows all about two-sport stars. Deion Sanders was a sensation in the early 1990s, playing cornerback for the playoff-bound Falcons, then helicoptering over to Fulton County Stadium to help the Braves win the National League pennant. The era of the baseball-football combo is back in Atlanta, but this time the star is the stadium.
While all eyes will soon be focused on Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the city’s shiny new toy for the Falcons, old Turner Field is re-opening its doors after a $26 million makeover.
“To come here and reconstruct this facility and to call it our own … you take pride in something that is your own,” Panthers head coach Shawn Elliott told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution earlier this month. “I use the example of when you bought your first house, how proud you were of it. If there was water in the sink, you’d wipe it out and all that good stuff. It’s no different here.”
Georgia State Stadium opened amid the fanfare of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, and was the home of the Atlanta Braves for two decades before the team moved to SunTrust Park in nearby Cobb County before the start of the 2017 baseball season.
When the Braves announced their departure from Turner Field, Georgia State — and its partners Carter and Oakwood Development — quickly stepped in to fill the void, completing its purchase of Turner Field and the adjacent parking lots for $30 million in January and announcing its intention to convert the ballpark to a football facility.
Dugouts were removed and the field was transformed from natural grass to field turf. The stands were re-configured to account for the sight lines of football, and a grandstand is located where right field used to be.
Other changes, according to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, include:
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.
Construction and design costs for the retrofit have totaled about $26 million to this point, Georgia State athletic director Charlie Cobb said. The costs have been funded from “a lot of university revenues,” he said, “and then part of it is a sponsorship piece.” The university hopes to put separate names on the stadium and the field, he said.
The tens of thousands of upper-deck seats remain in place, “but the plan is not to use them until we need them,” Cobb said. That leaves a seating configuration of about 25,000 in the lower and middle bowls, not counting the old seats over the former right field that won’t be used because of their distance and sight lines to the football field.
One main holdover from the Braves iteration, the massive MLB-approved video board, will still be in use, making it the eighth-largest video board in all of college football.
Georgia State, which is entering just its eighth season in football, played the previous seven years at the Georgia Dome, which also hosted the Falcons before the construction of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. A new hotel and large tailgating area are expected to be constructed once the Georgia Dome is demolished at the end of the year.
Elliott told the AJC that he is excited about the impact a new stadium should have on his program, from attendance to recruiting.
“You can’t put a figure on it. It’s certainly a game-changer. It really is,” Elliott said. “You’ll find out two and three years down the road how exactly it’s going to really help you. But thus far, it’s been great.”
“It’s been a home run for us.”
Image courtesy Georgia State University athletics.
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