2014-02-28 / News

Executive officer of Hardball Capital speaks for multipurpose facility

By Josh Cruse

Many residents have attended a public forum or Columbia City Council meeting regarding the proposed multipurpose facility in the heart of the Bull Street development known as Columbia Common.

Jason Freier, chief executive officer of Hardball Capital, has attended over 100 meetings in regards to the project. Approximately 20 of those meetings have been public forums, which are an opportunity for Freier to speak to and hear from the residents who will be affected by a multipurpose use facility.

“The meetings have been positive.” Freier said. “People who are not in favor in the onset were open minded and said they would give it more thought following the meeting. Other people are still going to have their opinion against it.”

The meeting he refers to was at Woodlands Park January 16. That meeting, an experience Freier characterizes as “being in the twilight zone.” It was hosted by council members Leona Plaugh and Moe Baddourah, who have been adamantly against the facility. The meeting, which Freier was only made aware of by a second party, consisted of mostly discussion and a vote. According to Freier, the vote was taken before the proposal was discussed. He says he wasn’t allowed to correct information given through the public discussion.

Freier was speaking at another public forum at the Cecil Tillis Center 24 hours before he made the trek to Woodlands Park. The latter meeting was already two hours long. The public vote at the park was mostly against the facility.

It has been a process for Freier which began in January 2013 when he requested permission from Minor League Baseball to explore the Columbia area.

His goal is to have a minor league team in Columbia ready to play for the 2015 season. At a public forum weeks ago, Freier said for him to be able to meet that deadline a deal would need to be in place, ideally, by the end of February. With the final council meeting of February held on the 18th with no decisions being made and the next council meeting scheduled for March 4, the deadline doesn’t appear likely to be met.

“With each day and week that passes, it makes it more difficult to be ready for 2015. It’s hard to say four days are going to make all the difference, but at the same time we understand things have to happen even if we got a favorable vote at that time.

“I think for us we still have that goal; we still think it is a possibility. The only way we would be ready for 2015 is if we felt we would not only be ready for 2015 but be ready to do that without having any increased costs or sacrificing any quality or anything like that.”

Freier has often compared Columbia to Fort Wayne, Indiana. For one reason, the Fort Wayne facility, which is owned by Hardball Capital, has recently undergone a similar process for a new stadium. Freier says every experience is a little different.

In Fort Wayne, the public had a limited number of opportunities to give their opinion on a new stadium. Already in 2014, those in the Columbia have had three chances.

Another difference is in Fort Wayne most of the meetings were held in the heart of the city, near the site of the stadium. In Columbia, Freier says Mayor Steve Benjamin emphasized that all meetings be all the districts.

Freier wants to build a multipurpose facility similar to the one in Fort Wayne. That stadium is approximately eight feet below grade. The one in Columbia could be even lower, an option designed to prevent noise issues. There will also be satellite speakers, another solution to noise. The lights will be taller. If the ballpark is approved, it will be at least two blocks away from the nearest, existing structure. It will also be built in the middle of Columbia Common. Those two blocks will be filled with future development.

Freier says he is also looking at preservation as part of the design, suggesting he would incorporate the Ensor Building as part of the stadium.

Again, Freier compared concerns from residents in Columbia to those from residents in Fort Wayne.

In a letter Freier sent to The Columbia Star , the president from the oldest neighborhood in Fort Wayne, West Central Neighborhood Association, gave positive reviews for what the new baseball stadium has meant for their community. The president addressed many concerns that residents in Columbia have, such as noise, infrastructure, and property values— speaking positively on all matters.

One other concern expressed during the public meetings has been the revenue the stadium and the entire Columbia Common project will generate for Columbia.

“One prime way a city sees a return on its investment is meaningful, private development around a ballpark. The ballpark makes an area more attractive. The Bull Street area is a great location, which has what we call a first mover problem.

“At some point, Bull Street, I believe is going to be one of the most attractive areas not just in Columbia but in the region, similar to what the Vista is now,” Freier said. “Getting from here to there is a pretty significant challenge on Bull Street given the size, and the magnitude of this property. We think we can raise the bar both in terms of the likelihood of Bull Street being successful and develop more quickly with our venue there.”

In the five years since Fort Wayne built a new ball park, the city has seen well over $100 million of development around the park.

Freier suggested another impact the ballpark can have on the city is partnerships with current businesses like the Riverbanks Zoo or EdVenture.

One of the main selling points for the project has been Columbia being the second biggest market in the United States without a professional sports franchise.

“Columbia is a large city and what that means is when we start to hear things such as the facility won’t succeed or if it does it’s drawing away from this or that. Columbia is big enough to have both.

“Columbia is big enough to have several kinds of attractions. If you want to be a city that is attractive, you need to have a lot of attractions. You can’t just say we have USC and that’s it,” Frier said. “I don’t think we are going to take anyone away from USC; I’m pretty certain that won’t happen. My contention is Columbia can support both. Columbia is not a small college town; Columbia is more than twice the size of Fort Wayne.”

Return to top