Though Columbia City Council voted 5-2 this week to continue exploring the possibility of minor-league baseball in Columbia, city leaders’ support for building a stadium is far from solid.
Four council members and Mayor Steve Benjamin voted to open talks with Hardball Capital, an Atlanta company that wants to build a multi-use stadium at Bull Street using a blend of private money and up to $35 million of public money. But the vote was only to continue gathering information and allow staff to negotiate directly with Hardball: It’s clear Benjamin has work to do to win the four votes he needs for actually funding a stadium.
Councilman Cameron Runyan, usually a reliable ally of the mayor, says he has “a long list” of questions and concerns about the stadium proposal.
“I’m really worried about making sure we understand what the risks are,” Runyan said near the end of a public hearing held Jan. 21. “Is there a black swan out there that will blow this thing up?”
Put Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine in the undecided column, too: She’s told Free Times she’s “open to the possibility of baseball and open to the city’s participation in that.” But she made it clear this week she hasn’t made up her mind.
“We have to decide, No. 1, is this something we want to do,” Devine said. “And then we need to look at if we can financially afford it. Those are two separate issues.”
Councilman Sam Davis is withholding judgment, too, remaining vague and polite about the possibility of a stadium.
As for council members Moe Baddourah and Leona Plaugh, they voted against opening talks with Hardball.
The timeline concerned Plaugh: Hughes and Hardball want to break ground on a stadium in March to be ready for the 2015 baseball season. But it became clear Tuesday that city staff have a great deal of work to before the city could put up any money. City Manager Teresa Wilson handed around a 23-point, two-and-a-half-page list of what would need to be done before a stadium deal could be struck, including legal reviews, assessing public safety needs and possibly creating a board or baseball authority to oversee things.
Plaugh asked Hughes if he’d still be willing to donate land for the stadium if the process were delayed a year, but he wouldn’t commit.
“I would like not to wait,” Hughes said. “Would I still donate land? I’d have to evaluate that.”
Meanwhile, Baddourah simply says he’s not hearing that people want baseball. They want better infrastructure and policing instead. And in fact, a majority of the people who eventually spoke at the hearing said exactly that.
The mood in council chambers Tuesday was tense at times.
Despite Benjamin saying he’d be more conciliatory toward his fellow council members after city voters rejected a December referendum that would have given him more power, there wasn’t much evidence Tuesday of a new civility at City Hall.
The hearing began at noon, and dragged on through a long presentation by Hardball Capital CEO Jason Freier and a brief trip to the podium by Greenville developer Bob Hughes, master developer for Bull Street. The public began to trickle out, not having had a chance to speak. Finally, Howard Duvall, former director of the Municipal Association of South Carolina, stood up and grumpily proclaimed, “This was advertised as a public hearing. You have yet to hear from the public.”
The room erupted in applause.
The mayor explained that he wanted city Chief Financial Officer Jeff Palen to make his presentation about financing options for a stadium before Council heard from the public.
“I think it’s important to have the facts,” Benjamin said.
“That’s not a public hearing,” Duvall said.
“Thank you for your expert advice,” Benjamin said.
“It was a teachable moment,” Duvall said.
Plaugh urged Benjamin to let the public speak next, before the CFO’s presentation.
“Does anyone care to see how this thing’ll be financed? I guess not,” Benjamin complained.
Plaugh replied, “Mayor, I would normally agree with you—“
“No you wouldn’t, actually,” Benjamin said.
And so it went.
When Palen finally made his presentation, it became clear the price tag for the city’s participation in Bull Street continues to climb. Using preliminary numbers, Palen estimated the city’s total outlay, including a stadium, would clock in at more than $90.2 million.
How would the city pay for that? Palen pieced together several potential revenue sources: $9.4 million in cash from reserve funds; a $24 million hospitality tax bond; and $57 million in what are called Installment Purchase Revenue Bonds.
“I’ve tried to bring something back, as a starting point, to show you … what would have the least effect on us and our ratepayers,” Palen said.
Council will have to spend much more time debating the issue, they agreed.
On Feb. 4, when Council meets again, they’ll take up the baseball issue once again.
Accepting Applications for Shakespeare’s Kidz!
Students ages 10-16 are invited to join South Carolina Shakespeare’s new youth company, with classes running September 20th-December 11th followed by a final performance. Contact Katie Mixon with questions about scholarships and applications: PKatieMixon@gmail.com.
Relaxation, Pain Management, and Stress Relief
Licensed massage therapist Allison Morris of AMR Massage offers 50% off your first session and every 5th session free of charge. Click here for location, hours, and more information.
Happy Hour and Sushi Specials All Week
Red Bowl in Lexington now has great early bird and late night sushi specials 7 days a week, as well as 99-cent kids meals on Saturdays! Click here for special information and hours.
Brew Pub Site Available
3520 Augusta Road, West Columbia. Click for more information.
Make Your Own Beer and Wine!
Come get started on your “liquid hobby” and help us celebrate our 46th year in the Columbia area. Bet Mar Liquid Hobby Shop: 736 St. Andrews Road.
SEARCH FREE TIMES
Wing Zone is now hiring for experienced delivery drivers, cooks & cashiers. Apply in person @ 132 Assembly St. or call 803-933-9464.
Free Times is looking for a highly organized, detail-oriented self-starter to assist in gathering material from advertisers, coordinating between the sales and production departments, and handling routine clerical tasks. Must be proficient on a Mac, able to conduct business via phone, email, text, Dropbox, social media platforms and face to face while under deadline in a fast-paced, sometimes distracting work environment. The position requires the ability to multitask, excellent oral and written communication skills, and solid experience in quickly learning new computer programs. This is a full time position with benefits. Send a cover letter, resume and salary expectation to firstname.lastname@example.org.
U.S. Security Associates
Now hiring immediately for armed and unarmed security officers. WE TRAIN YOU! Columbia & surrounding areas. ussecurityassociates.com