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AAA Braves bound for Buford Drive
Minor league affiliate's move to Gwinnett County announced
Braves president John Schuerholz, center, poses with members of the Atlanta Braves franchise and Gwinnett County officials Tuesday after the team announced its intentions to move its AAA affiliate to Lawrenceville. - photo by JONATHAN ZOPF | Times regional staff
DULUTH — The Atlanta Braves will no longer have to travel far to watch their top prospects.

Beginning next year, the team’s AAA affiliate will make its home in Gwinnett County, the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners and the Atlanta Braves announced Tuesday at a press conference at the Arena at Gwinnett.

The Gwinnett Braves will begin play at a roughly 7,000-seat, state-of-the-art stadium in April 2009 at 2500 Buford Drive in Lawrenceville. The site, located about three miles from the Mall of Georgia, is on the west side of Buford Drive, just north of the Buford Drive and Old Peachtree Road intersection.

"This idea was sparked by a lifelong love of baseball, years of coaching and spending time on county ball fields," said District 2 Gwinnett County Commissioner Bert Nasuti, who began proposing the idea of bringing minor league baseball to the county a year ago. "Minor league baseball is one of the most family-friendly entertainment activities there is."

The move to Gwinnett County ends the Braves’ 44-year run with Richmond, Va. as the home of its AAA franchise.

The inability to negotiate an agreement with the city of Richmond to build a new stadium was one of the reasons that the team will now be located in Gwinnett County.

"We have known that Gwinnett County was interested in building a baseball stadium for about a year," said Terry McGuirk, Atlanta Braves Chairman and CEO. "(That,) coupled with the fact that we have had some challenges getting a new AAA ballpark built in Richmond, made this attractive to have them in our backyard,"

The fact that the Braves will have their AAA affiliate only 46.4 miles away from Turner Field, along with the top-notch facility that will start to be designed today, gave team president John Schuerholz something to brag about.

"The Gwinnett County baseball facility affiliated with the Atlanta Braves will add, in fact go to the very top of, the facilities that we now have and give us something to stick our chests out about throughout the baseball industry," Schuerholz said.

The facility in Gwinnett County will cost an estimated $45 million with $12 million coming from the Gwinnett County property tax and the remaining $33 million coming from a revenue bond that will be paid off by the users of the facility. Since the property tax is a recreation tax, the voters of Gwinnett County need not approve the use.

While the county will technically own the stadium and has plans to develop the area around it, the Braves will operate the facility under a 30-year lease, overseeing everything from ticket sales to concessions.

The awarding of Gwinnett County with the AAA affiliate came after a "comprehensive study sanctioned by the United Convention Bureau which concluded that Gwinnett County is one of the best areas for minor league baseball in the whole nation," according to Nasuti.

Nasuti also cited the success of the Gwinnett Gladiators and the Georgia Force as a reason to believe that minor league baseball will succeed in the Atlanta suburb.

The Gladiators are a minor-league hockey team affiliated with the Atlanta Thrashers, while the Force of the Arena Football League are moving back to the suburbs after playing the last two seasons at Philips Arena in downtown Atlanta.

"To bring an organization like the Braves here is going to be a great deal," said Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur, who played high school baseball at Parkview High in Gwinnett County. "I’m excited to have them here and have a stadium right down the road from us."

According to a news release from the Braves, fans can place a $100 deposit for season tickets either through or by calling 404-614-1300, starting at 3:30 today. A first-come-first-serve list will be developed to select season tickets once the seating diagram has been finalized.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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