When it comes to Turner Field, don’t get caught looking

Photo credit: Chris Shattuck

After first expressing some interest to local media, Georgia State appears to now be backing off the idea of purchasing the Turner Field complex – at least to the public.

While Georgia State spokespeople have maintained to The Signal since November that the University has absolutely not entertained any discussion over buying Turner Field whatsoever, President Mark Becker gave an interview to WXIA-11Alive News two weeks ago that throws that entire narrative into question.

“I believe it was the Olympic Stadium…and the Olympic Stadium had a footprint more like a football stadium than a baseball stadium. So I would have to believe that could happen,” Becker said April 8 to 11Alive.

Becker went on to say that the land could be suitable for student housing, a necessity for Georgia State, as it grows to become possibly the largest university in the state over the next few years.

“You could do a variety of things,” Becker said. “You could see housing developing. Grant Park is not that far away. You might see some retail potentially in that area.”

However, his vision for the development, according to the interview, would be as part of a larger development plan.

“Turner Field is much too large for Georgia State alone,” he added. “Whatever would happen for Georgia State over there is going to have to be part of a much larger vision and a larger plan.”

However, the University’s PR arm was quick to put a damper on the story, even going so far as to claim 11Alive “manufactured” its report based on fragments of its interview with President Becker.

Further, spokesperson Andrea Jones told The Signal on April 9 that Georgia State is “not in talks with anyone” for the Turner Field property that will become available in 2017 after the Atlanta Braves depart to Cobb County.

So what did they have to say last week after Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed let slip that “he’s been in conversation with Georgia State University officials” about their interest in the property?

More denial.

“The university has nothing further to add,” Georgia State spokesperson Andrea Jones told The Signal last Friday.

But denying interest is not the way Georgia State needs to go about securing the property, a must-have acquisition for the future growth of the university, which President Becker surely realizes.

Instead, Georgia State and everyone representing its interests need to trumpet to why our school would be a much better investment than the other half-baked proposals currently out there.

Indeed, we need a full-scale PR campaign in favor of purchasing the property to win the popular support from the city and the neighbors of Summerhill, who are understandably wary of future sports-heavy economic development promises.

It’s important to present a united front because appearing wishy-washy or unorganized could raise serious questions as to the school’s ability to follow through on any deal it proposes.

In his last statement to the AJC, Reed said there have already been two to four offers for the 77 acres of land, so clearly this land will sell.

The only question is what part of the pie Georgia State takes for itself.

In its conversations with the mayor and to the public, Georgia State needs to be clear about its interests, how it will use the land and how it plans to interact with the surrounding community to drive economic development.

As President Becker alluded in his interview with 11Alive, there’s a great deal of sense to be found in the idea of converting rather than demolishing Turner Field as part of a larger plan to anchor Georgia State with other mixed-use developments in the neighborhood.

After all, the University has a decorated history of revitalizing areas where it expands Downtown and there’s no questioning its need for space near campus for additional student housing and athletic facilities.

So now is not the time to shrink back or appear inconsistent. Now is the time to present a strong case for why Georgia State is best suited for the property, and plug that line each and every time we can until we own 755 Hank Aaron Drive itself.