The Atlanta Braves’ new stadium in Cobb County has proven a popular destination, even when it’s not a game day.
M. Maxine Hicks, the Braves’ lead outside counsel for the development of SunTrust Park and the adjacent mixed-use complex, The Battery, spent four years getting very little sleep to make it happen.
It was “complete immersion from April of 2013 to Opening Day,” Hicks said. “It was the first time in my career that I had to transition other projects because it was so time-intensive.”
SunTrust Park, situated in the middle of a bustling complex of restaurants, shopping, a theater, offices, hotels and apartments at the intersection of I-75 and I-285 in Cobb County, is a far cry from the Braves’ old Turner Field location surrounded by a wasteland of parking lots.
And all of the components had to be up and running by Opening Day on March 31, 2017.
“Now it’s a place to be,” Hicks said. “You can sit in a restaurant and watch the ballgame.”
Hicks, who heads the Atlanta real estate practice for DLA Piper, said her career as a lawyer has been about “helping clients develop interesting places.”
“It’s my passion,” she said.
Hicks has worked on a slew of large-scale mixed-use projects and New Urbanist towns, such as Serenbe in the Chattahoochee Hill Country south of Atlanta, and Daniel Island, a 4,000-acre community outside of Charleston, South Carolina.
Right now, she’s development counsel on two giant projects for North American Properties: Riverton, a 418-acre riverfront community that’s the largest-ever mixed-use development in New Jersey, and Revel, an 118-acre complex in Duluth.
But none of them have been as complicated as the $1.1 billion Braves development, Hicks said, because none of those projects had to be completed on such a tight timeline with so many stakeholders. “Everything had to synchronize,” she said.
The Braves’ chief legal officer, Greg Heller, engaged Hicks in 2012 when the team was deciding whether to stay at Turner Field. When the team couldn’t strike a deal with the City of Atlanta, it decided to start from scratch in Cobb County—a move that provoked some outcry at the time. Hicks led the deal to buy the land on Cobb Parkway from B. F. Saul.
“From Day One she had our very best interests at heart,” Heller said. “Her primary concern was to protect the client.”
“The timeline was very aggressive,” said Heller, who’s been with the Braves for 18 years. “She and I were sort of joined at the hip on both the stadium and the development deal.”
“Greg knew everything about MLB and licensing agreements, so I could do my job,” Hicks said.
Not only was the deadline tight, but the $672 million stadium is a public-private partnership between the Braves and the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority, with additional financing from Cobb County and the Cumberland Community Improvement District, which added another layer of complexity.
For the $452 million Battery development, Hicks negotiated joint ventures with Omni Hotels, plus residential and retail partners, as well as major leases with Live Nation for the entertainment block and Comcast for the office building.
She also had to negotiate with lenders and multiple general contractors, as well as Colonial Pipeline and AGL to move three pipelines that ran through the middle of the property to the periphery.
“She helped keep the hundreds, if not thousands, of balls in the air,” Heller said. “She was terrific.”
Handling such a large deal with so many stakeholders takes political and business savvy as well as legal skills—plus project-management know-how to get every component negotiated, built and completed on time.
“You have to do a lot of listening and get the confidence of the overall team,” Hicks said.
She likened her role to that of an air-traffic controller. Hicks relied on her DLA Piper partners in different cities for expertise on corporate, finance, construction, joint ventures, community governance and insurance law.
“The project was truly a collaborative team effort,” she said. “You don’t do something that involved without having great in-house counsel and partners.”
Even so, she still had to know enough corporate, tax and construction law to advise her client properly. “You can’t take all those partners into every meeting,” she said.
The Braves were one of the first major league sports teams to get into the real estate development business. It’s a new model for professional sports, Heller said, adding that team owners contemplating new stadiums from every major league have visited SunTrust Park and The Battery.
And Hicks is in demand with other team owners. She prepared the initial project documents for the Texas Rangers’ new stadium, and she’s working on another stadium complex that’s still under wraps.