Baseball boom hits

  • Thursday, April 17, 2014

Submitted photo Columbia plans to build a baseball stadium on Bull Street.

The City of Columbia is working to bring baseball to South Carolina’s capitol city, in a move that rivals Project Jackson for redevelopment of a city area.

In a deal struck on April 8, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and City Council approved a plan to allow the city manager to enter a license agreement with Hardball Capital to bring a ballpark to Bull Street. The vote passed by a 4-3 margin, much closer than Project Jackson’s 6-1 margin, and will bring a team to play at the stadium for 30 years.

The plan Columbia is looking to implement is to redevelop the Bull Street area where South Carolina’s mental health facility was once housed.

The baseball stadium is to be the centerpiece of the deal, which is expected to “create jobs, grow the economy and generate millions of dollars in new revenue,” according to an editorial written for The State by Benjamin and other members of Columbia’s City Council. The new development is also expected to generate $1.2 billion in economic impact each year, according to Benjamin.

Although both North Augusta and Columbia are looking to redevelop parts of their cities and bring baseball in, Columbia is using a hospitality tax to finance its portion of the ballpark, and North Augusta is using a Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, plan. According to an article on ballparkdigest.com, Hardball Capital, the investment firm working with the City of Columbia, will pay $6 million up front for construction of the stadium and the City will bond $29 million using hospitality tax revenues.

Project Jackson is a proposed 457-acre, $144 million development along the Savannah River front that includes retail space, hotel, convention center and a new ballpark for the Augusta GreenJackets. Forty million of the $144 million is to be generated by a TIF district via increased property and sales taxes, which was approved by North Augusta City Council in November.

While North Augusta has the support of the Augusta GreenJackets, Columbia currently has no team to move into its stadium. The City currently houses the Columbia Blowfish, a summer wooden bat league team of college players, at Capital City Stadium. The newly passed stadium deal would not be for the Blowfish, similar to the $35 million stadium built by the University of South Carolina in 2009. Hardball Capital is hoping to buy a team or move the Savannah Sand Gnats to the new ballpark.

Although these cities are pumping big money into Minor League Baseball, the development for both North Augusta and Columbia will help attract new businesses and people to the state. Particularly in North Augusta, where the development will help keep money in the City from events like The Masters, the Peach Jam and Nike Nationals, by having another hotel for people to stay in. The proposed convention center could also be used as a building block for the area. As is the case in Columbia with the Columbia Convention Center, which will host the 2014 S.C. Democratic Convention, the 2014 SC Clean Energy Summit and the International Conference of Nanoparticles & Nanomaterials in the coming months. A convention center in North Augusta could bring similar events, or bigger events, to the area.

In the end, North Augusta and Columbia’s city councils are making moves to better their cities. They are working to make their respective cities destinations for tourists and businesses and their work should be applauded.

The North Augusta Star

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