Braves show off almost-completed SunTrust Park

Minus a few essential finishing touches — installing the bases, attaching the padding to the outfield wall and the like — SunTrust Park looks just about ready for a baseball game.

The Braves opened their new Cobb County stadium to the media for what the team termed a “sneak peek” Wednesday, 37 days before the first regular-season game there and two days before the start of single-game ticket sales to the general public.

The field, where workers laid 109,000 square feet of sod last weekend, was a photogenic expanse of green. The 41,000 green seats, a change from Turner Field’s blue, awaited fans. Even the 28-foot-tall climbing tower in the kids play area looked ready for action.

Despite the outward appearances, there is still much work to be done before cheering fans replace the hard-hat-wearing construction workers. The suites and club spaces must be outfitted with furniture, fixtures and equipment. Some of the technology systems, including Wi-Fi, are still being installed. And a punch list of minor fixes, which numbered almost 30,000 items at one point, continues to be worked through.

Outside the stadium, heavy work continues on the adjacent mixed-use development, The Battery Atlanta, some of which is scheduled to open in April and some over the course of the Braves season and beyond.

The restaurants, shops and apartments closest to the stadium are slated to open first, gradually followed by those closer to Cobb Parkway.

“Our goal was always to make sure that by the time we played opening day, there was no Georgia red clay flowing down the streets,” Mike Plant, the Braves’ president of development, said as he stood in the plaza that connects The Battery to the stadium. “And that goal has been achieved.

“You’re not going to see dumpsters and (construction) vehicles. This was very important to us — to make sure this didn’t look like a construction zone.”

It won’t, he vowed, although interior construction will continue throughout the season on some of the buildings, including the Comcast office tower and the Omni hotel, both of which overlook the stadium. The Comcast building is slated to open in the fall and the hotel early next year.

Plant said “close to 70 percent” of The Battery’s approximately 350,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space has been leased.

The Braves’ first game in the $672 million stadium, funded in part with $368 million in Cobb County taxpayer money, will be a March 31 exhibition against the New York Yankees. That will be a soft opening with attendance limited to season-ticket holders.

Single-game tickets for regular-season games will go on sale to the general public at 10 a.m. Friday.

The last crane visible from inside the stadium will be gone from the Omni building before the Braves’ regular-season home opener against the San Diego Padres on April 14, Plant said. At one time, he added, 14 cranes were on the premises.

One clear impression from Wednesday’s tour, attended by more than 60 media members, is that SunTrust Park is more compact than predecessor Turner Field. That is due to having about 9,000 fewer seats and to a design that places the seats closer to the field.

The seats are “as close as you can get … without getting really crazy,” Braves field director Ed Mangan said. “We’ve probably got eight or nine feet less (of foul territory) toward the dugouts than we had at Turner Field.”

Expanded protective netting is in the process of being installed. It will extend from behind home plate to the far end of both dugouts and is intended to give fans increased protection from line-drive foul balls.

One interesting vantage point showed off Wednesday was a space at field level just behind the right-field wall. From there, groups of fans can watch games through two large openings in the wall, separated from the field only by vinyl-coated chain-link fencing in the openings.

“This is where you come to harass the opposing team’s right fielder,” Plant said.

The star of the tour may have been the sod installed on the field last weekend.

Mangan said “Seashore Paspalum Platinum TE” grass was chosen because it will slow down ground balls a bit for infielders and will thrive in the shade that the stadium canopy and surrounding buildings will cast onto parts of the field.

After 30 months of construction, the long-awaited addition of grass made SunTrust Park look baseball-ready.

“You can kind of see the finish line once you get grass on the field,” Mangan said.

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