About five months after Mayor Steve Benjamin began talking in earnest about bringing minor league baseball back to Columbia, City Council has narrowly voted to build a ballpark at the historic Bull Street campus.
In a 4-3 vote, Council gave final approval Tuesday night to an agreement with Hardball Capital, an Atlanta-based company that owns minor league teams in other cities.
The city will borrow $29 million, to be paid back with hospitality taxes over the next 30 years, to build the stadium. A team would likely begin playing in 2016.
A large crowd turned out for the vote; the meeting stretched past four hours as city staffers, then the public took to the podium to discuss the project.
Neighborhood leader Christie Savage told Council she favors the ballpark.
“This will attract people to Columbia, will provide a venue where people can go and have a good time and not spend a lot of money,” she said. “A lot of people have said ‘Wait.’ I grew up during the civil rights era and I’m glad some of the people who say ‘Wait’ were not around then.”
But other residents said the ballpark would be a poor investment.
In particular, several people called for a true cost-benefit analysis of the project, saying the city had so far only heard rosy forecasts showing baseball could work in Columbia.
In fact, city staffers are looking for a consultant to do a cost-benefit analysis of the entire Bull Street project, which could be ready a few months from now. Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine wanted to delay a vote until after that analysis was ready, but the mayor pushed for a vote now.
“I can’t imagine another world-class city that would put that cart before the horse,” said Elizabeth Marks, a downtown neighborhood leader, of the vote coming before the analysis. “I would also like to see a public referendum on this.”
“Pro-baseball rhetoric is not a substitute for due diligence,” Marks said, bemoaning “the fact that we have not discussed ballparks that have failed or cities that have struggled to pay off ballparks.”
It was a serious meeting, lightened only when one citizen called for Councilman Cameron Runyan to recuse himself from the vote and resign from Council, saying she’d heard on WIS that he was planning to move to Greenville. (Runyan intends to stay in Columbia, he assured the public.) Her description of Runyan as “a petite, balding man” fueled ribbing from Benjamin throughout the night.
In the end, the stadium gained the support of Benjamin and council members Brian Newman, Sam Davis and Runyan — the same four who approved it on first reading. Voting no were Leona Plaugh, Moe Baddourah and Devine.
For the first time, Runyan publicly explained his position on the stadium.
“I’m in an interesting position because I was initially against this,” he said. As a financial professional, “I don’t invest in things I don’t understand.”
But he compared the amount the city will spend on baseball to the many years of public investment in the Vista.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in this room that would argue the Vista has not been a fruitful investment,” he said. “It is one of the great success stories of South Carolina.”
Runyan also noted that the ballpark project wouldn’t take money from the city’s water and sewer fund or its general fund.
“It’s important to point out that these are hospitality funds,” he said, which are restricted by state law in what they can be spent on. “It would be illegal for us to spend those funds on water and sewer, Boeing, etc.”
It was Leona Plaugh who’d first brought up Boeing, saying the city could have chosen to spend money on attracting “a BMW or a Boeing.”
“Instead, we have chosen to invest in a divisive multi-use entertainment venue,” she said.
A fired-up Sam Davis listed his conditions for supporting the project: “One, that this venue would not cause a tax increase. Two, that we not spend water and sewer dollars.”
It’s time for other parts of the city to get some investment, Davis said, and Bull Street is a start.
“I’ve given the mayor a little hell about this because I know what the impact is if this project fails,” Davis said. “I believe in making investments. I believe in other parts of this city getting [money].”
It’s not just Davis who’s been giving the mayor hell. For Benjamin, Tuesday’s vote marks the end of many months of citizen outrage, public meetings and op-eds and anonymous emails and debates over the stadium. Benjamin jumped headlong into the baseball fight right after city voters rejected his push to make Columbia a strong-mayor city last fall. So it’s been a long haul.
In his closing remarks, Benjamin said the ballpark is a big vision supported by ample evidence that it’ll work.
“We can’t [become a great city] by just shooting holes in ideas,” Benjamin said. “We can’t just oppose things.”
But Kit Smith, a former Richland County Councilwoman who opposed the ballpark project, told Council there’s much more debate and decision making to come before the first pitch is thrown out at Bull Street.
The Other Place at Trustus Theatre
Juliana Smithton is a successful neurologist whose life seems to be coming unhinged. A mystery unfolds as fact blurs with fiction, past collides with present and the elusive truth of Juliana’s mental health boils to the surface in The Other Place, running at Trustus Theatre October 17th through November 1st. There will be a talk-back following the matinee on October 19th. Tickets can be purchased here or by calling the box office at 803-254-9732.
King Lear in Finlay Park
October 16th-18th and 22nd-25th, the South Carolina Shakespeare Company presents William Shakespeare’s King Lear. All performances held at the Finlay Park Ampitheatre at 7:30 PM. For tickets and more information, click here or call 803-665-2000.
Bluegrass, Bidding, and BBQ
Join The Palladium Society Thursday, October 23rd from 7-10 p.m. for its 11th annual silent auction, featuring music by The Mustache Brothers and catering by Bourbon and The Oak Table. Tickets are $30 at the door and include admission, drinks, and food. Get yours online now!
Four Miles, Twelve Doughnuts
Winston’s Wish aims to increase knowledge and understanding of children with autism, and you can help by participating in the 4.donut Race on October 25th. Start at Edventure Children’s Museum, run 2 miles to Krispy Kreme, eat 12 doughnuts, and run back! Registration is required and can be done here before October 23rd at 5 p.m.
3LAU on Sunday, October 26th and the Unofficial Skrillex Mothership Tour After-Party on the 27th. More information and tickets for both can be found here. VIP tables available.
SEARCH FREE TIMES
U.S. Security Associates
Now hiring immediately for armed and unarmed security officers. WE TRAIN YOU! Columbia & surrounding areas. ussecurityassociates.com
Currently seeking a friendly & detail-oriented individual for an Administrative Assistant/Data Entry Clerk position on our Administrative Office team. Primary responsibilities include: Data entry, process incoming & outgoing mail, good communication skills required. Contact: email@example.com.
Cupcake now hiring a closing manager. Must be outgoing, customer service focused, able to work evenings and weekends. Apply in person. 1213 Lincoln Street, Columbia SC 29201. freshcupcakes.com
Local business is searching for new associates who are looking for a fun environment to earn great wages. Great position for college students/recent graduates. Must be well-mannered with excellent customer service skills/work ethic/ability to lift heavy items/must have valid Driver’s License. Call 803-376-4884 or email resume: firstname.lastname@example.org.