2014-01-24 / Government / Neighborhood

City continues to consider baseball stadium

By Josh Cruse

After a nearly six hour work session, Columbia City Council, with a vote of 5-2, agreed on a proposal to direct city manager, Teresa Wilson, to work with city staff and bring a draft of a license and managment agreement between Hardball Capital, LLC, and the City of Columbia by the February 4 council meeting. Mayor Steve Benjamin said the draft should include proposed financing options as well as any commitments from the Bull Street developer and Hardball Capital, LLC.

Councilwoman Leona Plaugh and Councilman Moe Baddourah voted against the proposal. Mayor Benjamin, Sam Davis, Cameron Runyan, Brian Newman, and Tameika Issac Devine voted for the proposal.

Plaugh wanted to stop negotiations all together. She was concerned spending money for the multipurpose facility would take away from other areas such as public safety and storm water repairs.

Some residentsadamantlyrequested to be heard after listening to nearly two hours of presentations by developer Bob Hughes and Hardball Capital chairman and CEO Jason Freier.

Forrest Alton said, “It’s whether or not you are going to make decisions to move this city forward. We don’t really have an option to continue to say no to investments like this, when cities around this region like Atlanta, Charlotte, and Greenville continue to say yes.”

Patricia Durkin said, “Even though I did not see the entire feasibility study, it was not a very good study. It is no different than the feasibility study done a few years ago on the city center partnership, where we spent a quarter of a million dollars to see where retail should go downtown. I think fixing our sewer system and water system will put more people to work.”

Jeff Palen, City of Columbia’s chief financial officer, identified 18 different sources for funding the project such as TIF districts, general bonds, and hospitality taxes. The plan he proposed was to use $9,400,000 in cash, or pay as you go; $24,000,000 in a Hospitality bond, and $57,000,000 in an Installment Purchase Revenue bond. Palen approximated the cost of the project at $90,236,000. $31,236,000 of that cost would be for infrastructure, $24,000,000 would be for parking, and $35,000,000 would be for the multipurpose facility. The land being provided for the facility is being donated by Hughes.

Another main issue was concern over the baseball team going bankrupt or moving to a different city. Freier said the owner and the team are bound by the lease between the team and the city. A franchise can be taken away from the owner if that owner doesn’t live up to the contract.

Freier says he is not proposing the city provide the funding for general maintenance. He said the baseball team would work with businesses like the Colonial Life Arena and the Township Auditorium rather than take business away from those venues.

Hughes said he can’t develop the rest of the land until he has an answer about whether or not the property will include a stadium. He says that retailers are telling him they expect construction to begin later this year if the plans for a stadium are approved.

According to Freier, if a stadium is not available on opening day, which occurs the first part of April, then it will have to wait until the following year. While failure to open the stadium by the Spring of 2015 wouldn’t be a deal breaker, he did note a lot can happen in a year.

Freier remains optimistic,“ If we can get all of this figured out by the end of February or there abouts, we still have a very good chance at 2015.”

Following the public hearing, council approved the first reading of an ordinance to execute an amendment to the lease agreement between the City of Columbia, Bright-Meyers LLC, and Shanahan & Company LLC for lease of Capital City Stadium. The amendment would allow the Columbia Blowfish to use Capital City Stadium for their home baseball games during the 2014 season.

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