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Official Review by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Atlanta Braves have opened the 2017 season in their brand new home, SunTrust Park, in the northwestern suburbs of Atlanta. The 41,500 seat stadium is the team’s third stadium since relocating from Milwaukee in 1966. The new stadium differs from its two predecessors, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and Turner Field, in that it is designed specifically for the Braves use by Populous, the firm responsible for 19 of the 30 current Major League Baseball parks. The Braves also serve as the manager for the stadium, as well as the live/work/play complex surrounding it, which is known as The Battery Atlanta. This marks a dramatic departure from most stadiums which are located in the downtown areas, as the Braves have chosen a location nearest to a majority of their ticket base.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The Braves have a wide variety of food options available within SunTrust Park and also outside the park in the Battery development. First to the basic baseball fare: Jumbo hot dog ($6.50), burger basket with fries ($10), jumbo pretzel ($5.50), and 8 oz. bag of peanuts ($5) are all available. On the beverage front sodas come in 32 oz. ($7), or 22 oz. ($5.50). All soft drinks and bottled water are Coca-Cola brand products... this is Atlanta after all! On the adult beverage front domestic draft beers are 24 oz. size ($10) or 12 oz. pours ($5). Craft beers are available in 16 oz. only ($9.50).
Seated options inside the park include the ever popular Chop House, which has now been expanded to a tri-level restaurant, with the Below the Chop feature at field level. A new addition is the Terrapin Taproom/ Fox Brothers BBQ. This combination pairs the first microbrewery in a major league ballpark with one of Atlanta's favorite BBQ establishments.
SunTrust Park has also added the Taste of Braves Country lineup which will focus on foods from the Southeastern region of the country. Among the offerings on this menu are a Fox Brothers BBQ smoked pork sandwich or chopped brisket sandwich with a choice of coleslaw or baked beans ($14) or Blackened catfish po' boy taco... this includes a 6 oz. filet of fish split between three tacos and topped with tomatoes, shredded lettuce and Cajun remoulade ($12). Atlanta mainstays Chick-fil-A and Waffle House also fall under the Taste of Braves Country menu.
The snack menu at SunTrust Park offers many new items. Sandlot Snacks offers a wide variety of kid friendly snacks in smaller portions. The Centerfield Market offers gluten-free hot dogs and popsicles in unique flavors from Atlanta-based King of Pops. Ice cream carts are found on each concourse and sell Tomahawk Ice Cream Bars that feature local High Road Craft Creamery ice cream shaped like a Tomahawk and dipped to order in chocolate sauce, then rolled in crushed peanuts.
The Braves have made a commitment to as fresh of ingredients as possible for all concession offerings. Items that fall under this program have the Farm to Fan logo on them.
SunTrust Park has been able to incorporate the latest in technological advances and construction techniques to provide a greatly enhanced fan experience. Thanks to the use of a cantilevered design for the seating areas, SunTrust Park is able to offer the highest percentage of seats closer to the field than any park in the major leagues. Another improvement that anyone who has endured a mid-July day game in Atlanta will appreciate is the 90 foot canopy that encircles the field at the top of the stadium. It greatly reduces the level of heat in the seating areas and also keeps the sun out of the eyes of fans much more effectively. The Braves have also moved night games back 30 minutes to 7:30pm to reduce the heat level and improve fan comfort.
The Braves do not want their new stadium to be cookie cutter in design like so many stadiums were in the 1960's and 1970's. They have added a quirky element to the outfield walls that have made deep drives to the outfield much more challenging for both hitters and outfielders. The distances to the right, center and left field walls are different... and so are the heights of the outfield walls. This means that the shortest distance to a home run (325 feet to right field) is made much more challenging by having a 16 foot high wall. By the same token, a ball hit to left field (335 feet) has to only clear a 6 foot wall. The result is that there are many more dramatic catches being made at the left field wall. Dead center field is a 390 foot shot, with a manageable 8 foot wall for outfielders to scale.
Another vast improvement over its predecessors is that SunTrust Park has open concourses that allow you to see the game while at a concession stand and they are also air conditioned. The previously enclosed concourses at Turner Field were enclosed and could be stiflingly hot with very little circulation.
The neighborhood surrounding SunTrust Park is a primary consideration in the relocation of the stadium. Both Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and Turner Field were isolated from any type of dining, retail, entertainment or lodging options for pre or post-game activities. Additionally, the previous Braves homes stood vacant for the remainder of the year, which increased the cost of maintenance.
The Braves solution is the $400 million Battery Atlanta development. It is designed to make the SunTrust Park and its surroundings into a 365 days per year destination, with the Braves serving as landlords. The Battery Atlanta includes restaurants, a retail district, office buildings, entertainment venues and several residential developments in its mix. Fans can spend the day or an entire weekend within walking distance of SunTrust Park and never visit the same establishment twice.
The Battery is a massive development and will open in two stages at the beginning of the season. Here is the opening lineup of restaurants, retail and entertainment venues and their opening date. Ready opening day were Hugh Acheson's First and Third Hot Dog and Sausage Shack, Two Ballpark Center, the Mizuno Experience Center, Yard House, the Terrapin Taproom and Brewery, Todd English Tavern, Antico Pizza, and Harley Davidson. Entertainment venues include the 4,000-seat Coca-Cola Roxy Theatre concert facility and Live! at the Battery Atlanta, a gaming parlor. Opening May 1 are C. Ellet's, Goldberg's Bagels and Deli, Haagen- Daz, FEED Fried Chicken and Such, Wahlburgers, Baseballism, and PBR Bar and Grill.
For locals not wanting to fight the traffic, or out of town visitors looking for a convenient place to stay for a baseball weekend, accommodations will be no problem. Locals can choose from three different apartment communities within the complex to live in permanently. A brand new Omni Hotel at The Battery Atlanta is now under construction (opening in September 2017) just outside the ballpark gates (once it opens you will be able to enjoy the game from the comfort of their rooftop pool which overlooks the field!) or you can choose from Embassy Suites, Marriott or Doubletree branded hotels adjacent to the development, within easy walking distance of the park.
The 2015 and 2016 seasons were very tough to bear for Braves fans, as the team has been going through a prolonged rebuilding phase after its glory days in the 1990's and early 2000's. A winning second half of the 2016 season and the new stadium have definitely revived the fans' enthusiasm and pride in the team. After two years of dwindling attendance, the Braves have experienced a surge of sellouts as both locals and ballpark chasers from throughout the country are coming to check out the first new MLB park built since 2012. Early reviews have shown that fans are very pleased with the new product both on and off the field. The Tomahawk Chop is back in Atlanta.
There is one glaring weak point to SunTrust Park that it shares with its predecessors, a lack of access to a public transit rail line. The closest rail station is more than 10 miles away. To address this problem the Braves and local transportation authorities have crafted a transportation plan. First of all, games on weeknights have been shifted back 30 minutes to avoid rush hour to some extent. They have also established circulator bus routes to shuttle fans from outlying lots to the stadium.
The stadium has more than 11,000 parking spaces available within walking distance of the park, which is 3,000 more spaces than Turner Field provided. The parking is available within a 360 degree radius of the park, alleviating the problem of all lots being along one road as was the case at Turner Field. All SunTrust Park parking must be by pre-purchased passes, and can be ordered at the same time tickets are purchased (A map of the lots is available on the Braves website). They have also identified 14 different routes to the stadium, some of which are interstates and some of which are surface roads. Finally, there is a designated Uber car service pick- up and delivery area just outside of the stadium that is heavily utilized.
Persons from out of town may see the stadium location at the confluence of I-75 and I-285 (Atlanta's perimeter road encircling the city) as easily accessible. Locals will tell you this is the most congested interchange in the metro area, with rush hour running from 3:30-8pm. We strongly suggest you explore one of three options 1) come early... explore and enjoy the restaurants and shops at The Battery Atlanta 2) book a room at one of the many hotels shown in the Neighborhood section, or 3) utilize the Uber car service.
SunTrust Park has experienced a number of sellouts early in the 2017 season and the secondary ticket market has tickets priced at $100 or more anywhere in the stadium. The actual face value of tickets ranges from $8 to $113 .Parking ranges from $18 to $23 based on distance from the park. Free shuttles run continuously throughout the games to the outermost lots. Locals may choose to ride on one the circulator bus routes that run in a 2-3 mile radius of the stadium or take Uber depending on distance traveled. Concessions do tend to be higher than average, but eating in one of the Battery restaurants is often less expensive.
SunTrust Park pays homage to Braves legend Hank Aaron in several ways. A new bronze statue is located at the center of the new Monument Garden in front of an art piece featuring 755 baseball bats in honor of the Hall of Famer's final home run total. The Hank Aaron Terrace is in the upper left field level and features both his 715th home run ball and bat. The Terrace is ringed with 715 bat knobs, each inscribed with the date and the opponent for each of Aaron's home runs. Finally, the end seat filigrees on each row in the park will feature a silhouette of Aaron's legendary swing.
Some fan favorites have made the move to SunTrust Park from Turner Field. The Braves Walk of Fame bricks from Monument Grove have been re-laid outside the stadium as has the home plate that was used both at Turner Field and Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. The Chop House restaurant and bar is back and even better in its right field spot as the bottom level allows you to watch the action at field level directly behind the outfield fence. Also back is the 40-foot Chick-fil-A cow in left field.
The Braves Museum has been redesigned into Monument Garden, and it is now incorporated into the concourse, so there is no longer a charge to learn about the team's illustrious history. Those who are interested in preservation will be happy to know that Turner Field did not meet the wrecking ball fate of previous Atlanta sports venues. It is being reconfigured for use as the football stadium for Georgia State University. Additionally, the Hank Aaron 715th Home Run wall in the Turner Field parking lot will fittingly be incorporated into Georgia State's baseball stadium.
A number of unique gathering areas have been developed throughout the park. The Xfinity Rooftop features breathtaking views of both the field and the Battery complex. It also features cabanas, several table games and a number of big screen TVs. Drinks are served out of an Airstream trailer that was hoisted to the top of the stadium. The younger set will be entertained by Hope and Will's Sandlot, which features sports games, a climbing wall and a zip line.
The Braves have developed an app that will allow you to purchase your game tickets, your parking space, the number of your space and provide GPS directions for you to get to your space all at the same time. SunTrust Park is the most wired stadium/arena in the country. A sellout crowd of 41,000 could use their mobile phones simultaneously, and the stadium would be able to handle it.
Seats at the Dugout level are made of a one of a kind Airflow Mesh material. The advantages to these seats are that they allow for air circulation to keep your bottom cool; they are ergonomically designed and conform to your body and they dry out instantly in the case of rain. One last benefit is that each chair has two independent armrests, meaning you do not share an armrest with your neighbor.
SunTrust Park is truly a 21st century ballpark, as it is the most technologically advanced facility in any major sport. It is also the first ballpark to offer a 365 day per year live/work/play environment just outside its gates. Come and check out the Braves new world!
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