Columbia and Lexington are both getting new baseball stadiums. But the stadium that will be constructed on Bull Street in Columbia is set to cost 10 times more than the stadium that will be constructed on Ballpark Road in Lexington. The difference? Their scale.
Columbia City Council recently passed a measure that authorized public funding to go toward a $35 million minor league baseball stadium on Bull Street. Public funding on the project will be capped at $29 million and ultimately will be paid through hospitality taxes.
Hardball Capital of Atlanta will run the stadium, and owner Jason Freier has committed to bringing a minor league team to Columbia.
Meanwhile, in a deal announced July 28, the Columbia Blowfish of the summer collegiate Coastal Plain League are leaving old Capital City Stadium — which originally opened in 1927 — and will head to Lexington County for the 2015 season.
Officials in Lexington indicate the new stadium there will come at a cost of about $3 million, which will be paid for with bond funds approved last year by Lexington County Council. The new stadium in Lexington will be located on Ballpark Road, on the site of the old Lexington High School football stadium, which was commonly referred to as “Wildcat Hollow.”
When the news broke that the Blowfish were leaving Columbia and would be playing in Lexington next year, some immediately wondered about the cost discrepancy between the two stadiums. Why would a new minor league stadium in Columbia come in at $35 million, while a stadium that can accommodate the Blowfish is set to cost only $3 million?
Simply put, the projects are just different in size and scope.
For starters, Columbia’s stadium on Bull Street will be tailored to suit a true minor league baseball team, one that is affiliated with a major league baseball club. A glance at stadiums such as Parkview Field in Fort Wayne, Ind. or Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, N.C. or Fluor Field in Greenville would give observers an idea of the trappings of a fully functional, modern minor league park.
For example, Parkview Field in Fort Wayne — where another of Freier’s teams plays — has a host of luxury suites, a rooftop party area, offers a vast array of concessions at various locations within the park and has a 58-foot wide video board.
Published reports have indicated a new minor league stadium in Columbia could hold more than 8,000 people for ballgames or other events.
On the other hand, officials say the new stadium in Lexington likely would have seating for about 3,000 spectators.
Also, according to Lexington County Recreation and Aging Commission Executive Director Randy Gibson, the idea of a new stadium in Lexington geared specifically toward college players was born some time ago, before the deal with the Blowfish was even on the table.
“We were planning to build a collegiate stadium two-and-a-half years ago, for us to host weekend tournament ball, travel ball, that sort of thing, but also to host some college teams from up North for some tournaments,” Gibson says. “[The stadium would be used] for them to come down during the winter when they are pretty much snowed under at the beginning of their seasons and they could play some teams from the South. It just works out, timewise, with the Blowfish season, since they have college players, but start [their CPL season] after the college season. … We’re not building a minor league stadium. We are building a collegiate stadium with a capacity of about 3,000.”
Freier says plans for Columbia’s new minor league stadium and team are moving “full steam ahead.” While he admits he does not have the full details of what Lexington’s new stadium will entail, Freier says the scope of the Columbia minor league stadium would likely be more in line with USC’s Carolina Stadium than a smaller park that could be built for just $3 million.
“Just to give you an idea, with USC’s stadium, the price on that was somewhere over $35 million,” Freier says. “Obviously, the vast majority of that was built years ago. … I certainly know what you can’t build for $3 million. I have a much harder time envisioning what you can build [for $3 million].”
When asked about the cost discrepancy between Columbia’s prospective new stadium and the one that will be built in Lexington, Blowfish owner Bill Shanahan says he is “laser focused on Lexington.”
Shanahan said he is thankful the Blowfish will have a new place to call home.
“We’re excited,” Shanahan says. “The last three years we were looking for a new home. Lexington County had been exploring the opportunities of building a new collegiate baseball stadium. I’m real thankful we were able to work it out.”
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin says he is sure “it will be a great baseball stadium that they are building in Lexington County.” Still, the mayor says Columbia’s ballpark project is much larger in scale and expected economic impact.
“We’re not just building a baseball field or a baseball venue,” Benjamin says. “We are building a multi-purpose entertainment venue that will host hundreds of events every year and will seek to enhance the cultural life and economic development of the City of Columbia.”
Benjamin predicts Columbia’s new stadium could bring 500,000 people into downtown every year.
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