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Braves Dragging on Diamond Lease



The Richmond Braves seem to be in no hurry to opt out of their lease to play at The Diamond in 2009.

The team has announced plans to move to a new stadium in Gwinnett County, Ga., next spring, but recent efforts by the owners of The Diamond to contact the Braves management about the status of the current lease have been unsuccessful.

Mike Berry, general manager of the Richmond Metropolitan Authority, which owns The Diamond, says he placed calls to Braves management in early June to inquire whether the team would opt out of its Richmond lease.

"We haven't heard anything yet," he says.

The Braves have a year left -- through the 2009 season -- and despite announcing intentions to move, the current Richmond lease is still valid.

At issue: the Richmond Braves' territorial rights to the Richmond region, which the International League must release before city officials and the authority can begin negotiations with new baseball teams.

Although initially expected to release the franchise restrictions by mid-July, Randy Mobley, president of the International League, says he isn't sure when the restriction will be lifted.

"It could come any day," Mobley says, "but both the Atlanta Braves and the International League would have to sign off on this." He adds that he's had no recent communication with the Atlanta Braves, which own the Triple-A Braves.

Berry says he's aware of several teams that are interested in moving to Richmond, but those negotiations can't begin until the Braves are officially out of the picture. Meanwhile, the city of Richmond's requests for ballpark redevelopment proposals along the Boulevard -- the initial request for qualifications went out in January -- are due Aug. 8. There are six development teams in the running, including a team headed up by former City Manager Robert C. Bobb.

If nothing else, Mobley says, the expiration of the Richmond lease would be enough to release the territory. If the Richmond Braves still haven't officially opted out, Berry says the authority has the ability to terminate the last year on the lease after Oct. 1. A clause says the lease may be terminated 30 days after the season ends Sept. 1.

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