Yates has M-Braves new home on fast-track

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Published: May 17,2004

PEARL – The new $25-million Mississippi Braves stadium is on the fast track to be completed by the first pitch of the baseball season next spring.

With the surveying and most engineering work already done for the site, Philadelphia-based W.G. Yates and Sons Construction Company is ready to build the 7,000-seat stadium being designed by HOK Sports Facilities Group of Kansas City and local partner Dale and Associates, Architects, P.A.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the stadium was held at the site May 11th.

“It`s a great project with an aggressive schedule,” said HOK principal Bruce Miller, AIA.

The Braves double-A affiliate announced plans to move the team to Pearl on April 2. The stadium, located near the intersection of Interstates 20 and 55 and U.S. 49, will feature a 360-degree concourse similar to Turner Field in Atlanta, home of the Atlanta Braves.

“Fans will be able to walk all around during a game and feel like they’re part of the game,” said Murray D. Wikol, founder and president of Bloomfield Equities LLC, owner of the stadium. “The suites and seats will be close to the ball diamond. It will be a fun, entertaining place, all master planned to complement the Bass Pro Shop.”

HOK has designed sports arenas for 24 of 30 MLB franchises, 30 of 32 NFL franchises, 75 professional and civic arena clients, 40 soccer and rugby teams and 75 colleges and universities. The field geometry of the Mississippi Braves stadium will closely resemble Turner Field.

“The basic concept of the Mississippi Braves stadium is that it`s an open concourse so that as you enter at grade, you come into the building with a wide open view of the whole field and the seating goes down in front of you,” said Miller. “As you get up during the game, you never leave the game experience.”

An elevated restaurant will be located in the right field area, and a deck will be situated on the second level. Areas for group gatherings will be incorporated into the design of the stadium.

“The stadium is going to go beyond just the Braves,” said Wikol. “We’re going to have college games and concert events and other activities going on.”

The stadium will feature up to 24 luxury suites, a full LED video board and a distributed sound system similar to a home theater system with surround sound.

“The speakers will be smaller with a lower volume, but there will be many more of them so the speaker source will be much closer to you,” said Miller. “For instance, even if it`s a very windy day, the sound will still be very clear.”

The name of the stadium is still up in the air, depending on who buys the naming rights, said Wikol.

“The stadium will complement Murray`s other developments,” said Miller.

Entertainment complex

Groundbreaking is slated for later this summer on Wikol`s planned retail development featuring a Bass Pro Shops superstore.

Located next to the new stadium, Bass Pro Shops’ Outdoor World, an entertainment retailer of outdoor recreational products for camping, hunting and fishing, is the anchor tenant in the new 780,000-square-foot Bloomfield development. Upscale shops, a hotel and other attractions are planned for the development, which will employ approximately 1,000 people, including 300 in the Bass Pro complex.

Outdoor World will feature 180,000 square feet of retail space, restaurants, an amphitheater, a wildlife museum and aquarium and a 10-acre lake for fishing demonstrations. When the store opens next year, approximately two million annual visitors are expected to generate about $50 million in annual revenue. Other stores in the complex are expected to generate about $60 million in revenue.

“We’d been working on the stadium idea even before Bass Pro came along,” said Pearl Mayor Jimmy Foster. “Everything worked out great.”

A long way from Rome

Last year, the small city of Rome, Ga., population 35,000, celebrated the opening season of the Rome Braves.

The single-A team left its home in Macon, Ga., and signed a 10-year contract with Rome/Floyd County in northwestern Georgia after voters narrowly passed a SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) in 2001 to build a $15-million stadium. The city, situated between Chattanooga, Tenn., Birmingham, Ala., and Atlanta, yet more than 25 miles from interstate access, had failed in an attempt in the early 1990s to attract the Braves to Rome after a SPLOST did not garner enough votes to pass.

On April 11, 2003, the Rome Braves opened to a sold-out stadium of 5,200 fans. In its inaugural year, the team won the 2003 South Atlantic League Championship.

“Things have been well beyond my most optimistic expectations of what Braves baseball has done for Rome,” said Lisa Smith, executive director of the Greater Rome Convention and Visitors Bureau, who added that people are driving from a 150-mile radius to watch the ballgames. “Having the Rome Braves has given us a quality of life issue that has helped us recruit industry. Rome no longer seems to be too out of the way.”

Within a year of the team`s arrival, four major employers moved to Rome: Pirelli North America, Neaton Auto Products, F&P-Georgia Manufacturing and Suzuki North America.

“The team gives additional product to the employees and somewhere visiting officials from the companies can go,” said Smith.

Al Hodge, CEO of the Rome Chamber of Commerce, said the increased room nights and extra retail sales, along with the recognition of snagging the farm team “has been the bonus.”

“Truly, the team has been a rallying point for the community,” he said. “It has been all positive and literally no negative.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.

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