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New Turner Field owner could be picked before community feedback is heard

'We were served a big platter of bull$#&@,' says one resident

Yes, Mayor Kasim Reed says, neighbors will help decide how 87 acres including Turner Field will be rebuilt when the Atlanta Braves leave the ballpark. But bids for the property will be collected in a timely manner, period. And the process to determine who will build the megasite — and what it will look like — will take place at the same the community outlines its vision for the property.
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? “Capital doesn’t sit and wait for opportunities,” Reed told a public meeting that attracted some 200 people Wednesday night to the 755 Club, a glass box set into the stands at the stadium. "Right now capital is interested in Turner Field. We don’t have any guarantee that capital is going to be interested in Turner Field in 12 or 15 months."
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? The meeting, organized by the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority, the city-county body that oversees Turner Field, was meant to give the public an idea what will happen between now and an inked deal on the property. 
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? Keisha Lance Bottoms, AFCRA’s executive director who also (controversially) serves a member of the Atlanta City Council, said two things will happen in parallel. In about mid-November, the city will start a Livable Communities Initiative project to survey residents about what they want out of a new development.  
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? However, if AFCRA starts taking bids in early October, the deadline for buyers to submit their bid prices and vision for the property will be in about mid-November, said William K. Whitner, AFCRA’s board chair. That means would-be Turner Field buyers will need to submit their proposals to AFCRA without the benefit — or potential limitations — of a survey outlining what residents want to see.
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? So far, Georgia State University, working in partnership with Atlanta-based firms Carter, Columbia Residential, and Oakwood Development, has said it’s interested in the site. Reed says the joint venture's proposed mix of student housing, apartments, and retail is his preferred option.
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? MGM Resorts International is scouting around in Atlanta for a casino site, most recently near Downtown's "Gulch." That interest, Reed said in July, has sparked other gaming companies' interest in the 87 acres. Reed told the meeting attendees as he left that he heard their concerns about a casino at Turner Field.
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? But because the bidding process hasn't started, there are no official bids yet.
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? When the process does begin, prospective buyers will need to suggest a sale price and say what they would do with the land. The bidder's idea for the site will carry the most weight in selecting the new owner, said Whitner, though the buyer must also have the real money to do what they promise. Once the bids are submitted, the various proposals will be sealed until a decision is made.
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? Reed and Bottoms both defended collecting bids before the resident survey is done. Both said their timeframe is short, with the Braves leaving in December 2016. Reed said they have the capacity to to make sure the buyer is responsible to what comes out of the study.
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? But what got Bottoms and Reed both some boos and angry shouts from the crowd is nervousness that something will be put there that would not benefit the community.
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? “We were served a big platter of bullshit,” said Peoplestown resident Rick Laupus. He doesn’t buy the city and AFCRA's need for speed. It's better, he said, to engage communities first, figure out what should be there, then solicit development firms that specialize in whatever the community decides it needs. He said he couldn’t imagine that such a big piece of land near Downtown wouldn’t attract a large number of interested parties.
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? Columbus Ward, a longtime Peoplestown activist, said he wants a requirement written into the request for proposals that the developer will address the issues and concerns that come out of the city’s survey — and that they will agree to a CBA, or Community Benefits Agreement. If those things are written in, “then we can move forward,” he said.
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? One of the glass walls of the 755 Club meeting room overlooks the baseball diamond. The opposite window overlooks thousands of parking spaces that are hot properties for a few hours on game days, but for much of the year just make empty space on a map.
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? David DJ Shockley, also of Peoplestown and a member of the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition, pointed out the window to the parking lot after the meeting. When it rains, the water from there and other parts of southeast Atlanta washes to his low-lying neighborhood, causing flooding. He said for one, whatever happens should address the flooding, without the controversial plan that would clear some of his long-time neighbors out of their houses.
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? “You cut up those parking lots, you got places for the rain water to go instead of downhill, where we live, at the bottom of the hill,” said Shockley. He said Wednesday night's meeting was not what he had expected, with questions written and passed to the speakers, rather than some kind of direct dialog. “Snow job, that’s how I feel about it,” he said.
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? The neighborhood has a long history of disappointment with Turner Field and the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium that came before it, the city’s 1966 gift to itself on the site of what had been a grid of little neighborhood streets. 
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? Then there are the recent decisions that make some mistrust how Atlanta deals with big property deals. Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United FC will play, will be financed in part by tax dollars. Film mogul Tyler Perry bought Fort McPherson without a competitive bidding process
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? The feelings about trust are “fair and reasonable,” said Reed. But, he continued, the city needs to make sure it doesn’t “blow an opportunity” that the community has deserved for a quarter-century. 



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