The Score: DLA Piper Takes Lead on New Braves Stadium

, The Am Law Daily

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Turner Field
Turner Field

UPDATE: 11/16/13, 5:15 p.m. EST. Names of lawyers hired in the Jonathan Martin case have been added to the 19th and 20th paragraphs of this report.

Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves announced this week that the team plans to leave its downtown ballpark for a new $672 million stadium in suburban Cobb County as of 2017.

The terms of the deal laid out in a proposed 30-year memorandum of understanding between the Braves and Cobb County show that the team is to pay $372 million, or 55 percent, of the estimated cost of the project with public funds covering the balance, according to The Associated Press. The Braves provided a map of the Atlanta area showing that most of their ticket holders live in the northern suburbs.

Amid the outcry over the franchise's decision to move beyond the city limits, Atlanta mayor and former Holland & Knight partner Kasim Reed told reporters that the cost of keeping the Braves in town proved to be too high. The city plans to demolish the team’s current home at 49,500-seat Turner Field—a stadium built before the 1996 Summer Olympics that began hosting the Braves 17 years ago—to make way for a mixed-use development.

DLA Piper real estate partner Maxine Hicks, who joined the firm’s Atlanta office in a high-profile lateral move from Epstein Becker & Green in January 2011, has been advising the Braves on the team's quest for a new stadium. Though Hicks did not return a request for comment on the Cobb County move, a DLA spokesman confirmed that she is leading a team of real estate, construction and stadium lawyers working on the matter.

Braves general counsel Gregory Heller, who became the team’s top in-house lawyer in May 2007, also did not respond to a request for comment. Heller did speak with affiliate publication the Daily Report earlier this year about his job, noting at the time that DLA is one of several firms on which the Braves rely for outside counsel.

DLA has experience doing sports-related deals in Atlanta. The firm advised the owners of the National Hockey League’s Atlanta Thrashers two years ago when they sold the franchise to a investor group in Winnipeg—the central Canadian city where the team was subsequently moved—for $170 million. DLA also acted as lead outside counsel to the same ownership group on its proposed 2011 sale of the National Basketball Association’s Atlanta Hawks, although that deal ultimately collapsed and the team was taken off the market.

Since Atlanta’s negotiations with the Braves never progressed far enough to warrant the retention of outside counsel, the city relied on an in-house team led by deputy city attorney Peter Andrews and assistant city attorney Christopher Walker. Atlanta’s city attorney is Cathy Hampton.

Hampton and Andrews led the city's legal team earlier this year when it struck a $1 billion deal with the National Football League’s Atlanta Falcons to build a new retractable-roof stadium to replace the team’s current home at the 71,200-seat Georgia Dome. Locke Lord finance, banking and real estate chair Louis Cohen served as outside counsel to Atlanta on that deal, while King & Spalding took the lead for the Falcons, according to our previous reports.

The Georgia World Congress Center Authority board voted last month to approve a budget and design plan for the new football stadium, which is now expected to cost $1.2 billion and open in time for the NFL's 2017 season. Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development entity, is being advised by Hunton & Williams public finance partner Douglass Selby on the Falcons stadium deal. Selby also serves as outside counsel to the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority.

There may be more sports-related deal work to be done in Georgia's largest city, given that Atlanta is among the contenders vying for a Major League Soccer expansion team. Falcons owner and Home Depot cofounder Arthur Blank has expressed an interest in owning a team to play in the new stadium he’s building for his NFL franchise.

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