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Opening slated for 2009: Braves moving Triple-A team from Richmond, Va., to Gwinnett
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Flowery Branch Mayor Diane Hirling discusses economic opportunities that may accompany the relocation of the Braves’ AAA team from Richmond, Va., to Gwinnett County.
BUFORD — Richmond’s loss is Gwinnett’s gain, baseball fans said Tuesday.

As news spread of the Atlanta Braves’ top minor league team’s move next year, patrons and merchants of sports-oriented stores at the Mall of Georgia weighed in on the 2009 relocation that will see the AAA team play just down the road.

"I’m looking forward to it," said Heath Shivers, 25, who works at Fanatic Fans, a sports apparel and memorabilia store. "Minor league games are fun. And you can sit in the front row for less than it costs for the upper deck in Atlanta."

"It sounds like a good deal," said Jerry Ashmore of Flowery Branch. "It will be good for the community, no two ways about it."

Ashmore said he "doesn’t have any issues" with county tax dollars going toward the funding of a new stadium, which would be located near Interstate 85 just south of the Mall of Georgia.

Casey Dunn of Doraville was browsing the aisles of Dick’s Sporting Goods when told the news. Dunn believes there’s "room for both" a major league team and minor league team in the metro Atlanta area, noting Gwinnett’s Gladiators and Georgia Force hockey and football teams.

"Personally, I don’t think it would hurt if there were two major league teams in the same state," Dunn said.

Dunn speculated Richmond, Va., may have experienced dwindling attendance.

"Maybe they’re not having enough folks in the stands to warrant having the team there," he said.

Ray Saunders, who works at Dick’s Sporting Goods, said the move will benefit Atlanta players on rehab assignments in the minors.

"It’s better for them, and better for their families, as opposed to going to Richmond," he said.

And for the fans, it will offer a preview of the major league’s stars before they are stars.

"It’s a great place to see upcoming talent," said Saunders, who saw major league players Johnny Damon and Adrian Beltran toiling in the minors in games in Witchita, Kansas.

Gainesville High School Baseball Coach Wayne Vickery said some might express concern that the minor league team will be so close to its parent team, but noted that other teams, including the Philadelphia Phillies, have affiliate teams within an hour’s drive "and they’re thriving."

Vickery said the four decades the Braves’ AAA team spent in Richmond was not typical.

"Minor league teams do a lot of moving," he said. And the Braves were no doubt looking for the most attractive package as the Richmond deal expired.

"It’s all about where they can get the best deal," Vickery said.

Danny Lambert, 42, of Loganville, said he would rather the Braves fund the new stadium, "but if Gwinnett County needs to do it, that’s OK. As long as the county gets a good deal on the revenues. It’s definitely a money-maker."

Lambert said a minor-league game, with good seats at a fraction of the major-league costs, is "much more inexpensive, and much more feasible."

"I think it’s a good thing," Lambert said. "Poor Richmond."

The Braves franchise may not be the only ones getting a good deal around here. The minor league stadium in northeast Gwinnett could also draw thousands of baseball fans to businesses in south Hall County.

"I think anything like that that draws people to the area can have a positive economic impact, whether it’s just with our restaurants, hotels or motels — just people being in our area — I think it’s another plus for our community," said Stan Brown, Oakwood city manager.

Flowery Branch Mayor Diane Hirling said she hopes the minor league team will attract fans to the city’s downtown area as it is redeveloped through 2009.

"By then, we’ll have our one hotel done and maybe it will bring some more developers in to think about building a second hotel or even a convention center here," Hirling said. "I think what we’d really like is some sort of a lifestyle center in Flowery Branch — that would definitely bring people up from Buford."

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