Georgia State wants to buy Turner Field

Georgia State University’s plan to buy Turner Field and remake it into a Panthers football stadium cleared a major hurdle when it won unanimous approval of the University System of Georgia Board of Regents.

The Regents’ approval of the $53 million plan to buy and overhaul the stadium and some surrounding property is a milestone for the downtown university and its development partners, and keeps the purchase on track to be completed by the end of the year.

A presentation to the Regents showing what the stadium could look like included new grandstands in what are now The Ted’s right and center fields.

“Right now we have a time-line and a plan that will make it possible to play in 2017 provided that we don’t hit any unanticipated obstacles,” Georgia State President Mark Becker said. The project will be carried out in multiple phases.

Georgia State wants to create a new seating bowl with 23,000 seats initially, with future plans for 10,000 additional seats. The project includes a new field, reorienting lower bowl seating and upgrading locker rooms and other areas. Georgia State would also relocate its hospitality school into newly renovated space.

Georgia State launched a new website on Wednesday with details about the project, including a plan for a new Panthers baseball field on the site of the former Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. The school said the nearby cauldron for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games will remain.

In August, Georgia State and a development team led by the real estate firm Carter reached a deal with the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority to buy Turner Field for $30 million. The broader redevelopment of the area is valued at $300 million.

Scott Taylor, the president of Carter, said his firm’s development plans are still evolving, but will closely track the wishes of nearby neighborhoods gleaned from a study conducted with the city and the Atlanta Regional Commission.Thatplancalled for walkable streets, dense development with a mix of retail, restaurants, housing and transit, including the potential for light rail.

One of the company’s first plans will be to bring pop-up shops, food trucks and other temporary uses to “activate” the corner of Hank Aaron Drive and Georgia Avenue as the first permanent structures are developed.

He said the plan is “to turn Hank Aaron Drive into one of the greatest streets in America.”

The first major project will be an $80 million private student housing development likely to open in 2019 that could have 400 to 800 beds. It will rise along the Downtown Connector near Turner Field. Taylor said talks also are underway with a grocer and numerous retailers.

The development team also is considering office buildings that could create a business cluster similar to Georgia Tech’s Technology Square in Midtown. The site, with easy access to Harts-field-Jackson International Airport, downtown and burgeoning in-town neighborhoods, could appeal to companies looking to locate near the university or others looking for amenities the future development will offer.

Taylor said the development will offer incubator space and room for startups as well as established companies or corporate relocations.

Some neighborhood groups and students have said they’re concerned the plans will displace longtime residents. They’re pressing Georgia State for actions to ensure current residents benefit.

In other local projects, “Every time there’s been a major development, promises have been made and they haven’t been kept,” said Georgia State sophomore Patricio Cambias, part of a group advocating on the issue.

Carter and Georgia State officials have pledged to work with community leaders.

“I don’t know of any real estate project that we’ve studied longer or harder than this one,” Regent Philip Wilheit Sr. said before a preliminary vote on the plan. “It’s been a long drive but I think it’s a great project.”

Much of the Georgia State money — $26 million — would go toward stadium renovations. Another $22.8 million would be used to purchase the stadium and surrounding parking lots.

The school also is seeking naming-rights partners.

The balance of the land slated to become part of the development would be bought or leased by Carter.

Most of the $52.8 million the Regents approved Wednesday will come from Georgia State’s savings. Becker said funding plans are in line with his pledge earlier this year that the school wouldn’t seek state funding or increase tuition or student fees for the project.- by Molly Bloom and J. Trubey, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution