City Watch

Baseball Plan is a Wild Pitch

Plus: Remembering Capt. Joseph Pellicci

By Kevin Fisher
Wednesday, January 22, 2014

“Wouldn’t it be nice to stop dead in its tracks the ludicrous proposal to build a second new baseball stadium in Columbia, one that is wholly duplicative, entirely unnecessary, unwisely located and financed with your tax dollars?” — City Watch, Sept. 7, 2011

What can I say? I saw this coming like a hanging curve ball.

Over two years later, I’m even more opposed to the idea. Mayor Steve Benjamin’s proposal is that Columbia taxpayers — who are already on the hook for upwards of $1 billion in federally mandated repairs and upgrades to a water and sewer system that is crumbling beneath us due to past political incompetence — should underwrite present political incompetence and shell out $42 million for a new baseball stadium. It’s a wild pitch.

Wild, as in out of the strike zone of fiscal responsibility. Wild, as in a bean ball flying straight at the head of taxpayers. Wild, as in the Charlie Sheen pitch that sailed 10 feet over the umpire’s head in the great baseball movie Major League, with Bob Uecker describing it to the radio audience as “a little high.”

A little high, indeed. Of course, the mayor calls the $42 million stadium proposal a “public-private partnership.” Here’s what that means: We (Columbia taxpayers) would pay 85 percent of the cost, while the team (a for-profit entity) would pay 15 percent. Shrewd.

Moreover, Benjamin offered this knuckle-ball-in-the-dirt explanation of where the money will come from: “We have the ability and capacity to fund it in its entirety without any additional tax burden to citizens.” Hey, as long as you don’t increase property taxes, more debt doesn’t matter, right? We don’t have to pay off bonds, do we?

Meanwhile, the owner of the team that would abandon Savannah for Columbia, as the Bombers abandoned Columbia for Greenville in the “who can we hustle into building us a new stadium” racket, says minor league baseball will be great for the city. No doubt he told the folks in Savannah the same thing a few years back.

Actually, a smartly located stadium can help revitalize a downtown area, as Fluor Field did in Greenville. But Benjamin’s proposed stadium does not meet that test. Unlike Greenville, where the stadium sits right in the midst of the Main Street entertainment, dining and office district — and families and friends can and do walk to restaurants and bars in the surrounding area before and after games — the mayor’s Bull Street plan places the stadium within walking distance of nothing. Except the surrounding neighborhood, which doesn’t want it.

A poorly located, taxpayer-funded, politically controversial baseball stadium is not the answer. What is? As I wrote in that September, 2011 column:

“There’s nothing like going out to see the nationally ranked Gamecocks at the terrific Carolina Stadium. It is a truly superb facility. It is also a woefully underused one. Therein lies the obvious answer to minor league baseball returning to Columbia.”

It was true then and it’s true now. By the way, it’s also how it’s done in various cities around the country, including Charleston. That’s right, Joseph Riley Park (aka The Joe) is home to both the Citadel Bulldogs and the Charleston RiverDogs.

How did that come about? Mayor Riley brought town and gown together and made it happen. That’s the kind of thing a strong mayor does — regardless of a city’s form of government.

A Wonderful Officer, A Wonderful Man

I was fortunate to know and work with Capt. Joseph Pellicci, the Richland County Sherriff’s deputy who died from cancer last week at 53. Joseph was the public information officer for the S.C. Highway Patrol during the years we produced the Highways or Dieways campaign, and my fond memories of him run deep.
As Sheriff Leon Lott said at the funeral, Joseph was a man of God. He truly was — not in a pushy way, but simply in the way he lived and the quiet example of goodness he provided.
Sherriff Lott offered a fine eulogy, both funny and touching. Several friends did the same, as did Joseph’s children, Joel and Whitney. The emotion of both the speakers and the mourners was overwhelming. His wife Anita will miss him dearly, as will all who knew him. 

Fisher is president of Fisher Communications, a Columbia advertising and public relations firm. He is active in local issues involving the arts, conservation, business and politics.

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