City Watch

Edens CEO Hits It Out of the Park

By Kevin Fisher
Wednesday, March 12, 2014

“Brown also said that city officials pushing a stadium for the Bull Street tract are not acting as businesspeople would.” — The State, March 10

Who would have thought — politicians using other people’s money not acting as businesspeople using their own? I’m shocked I tell you, shocked. But so said Terry Brown, CEO of Edens, the $4 billion Columbia-based commercial real estate giant.

Brown went on to say: “A businessperson would say that it should be built in an area that already has infrastructure like roads, utilities and hotels, somewhere walkable …  A place that amplifies and cements the long-term success of the city’s and university’s investments into Main Street, the Vista and Innovista.”

Nah, we don’t go for that kind of thing here. Sounds too logical, too well conceived. Makes way too much sense. No, we prefer real estate failures funded with tax dollars. It’s our way.

The story adds: “This is an expensive and inconvenient place for the city of Columbia to spend money on a private baseball stadium, Brown said. ‘You want to locate a baseball stadium where people can walk to it,’ he told a reporter.”

To be fair, there is the other side of the coin, as presented by noted real estate developer and Columbia Mayor, Steve Benjamin. I mean, who can argue with the man who gave us The Village at River’s Edge? This is clearly a guy with an understanding of a good deal for taxpayers, not to mention an instinct for picking business partners.

But I digress. Back to Brown, who offered this as an example of how the proposed stadium will fail to capitalize on existing investment: “The 800 students that are going to be living in the new Main Street dorm [The Hub at Columbia, formerly The Palmetto Center office building], they won’t walk to the Bull Street stadium.”

At last, a kindred spirit. As I wrote on Feb. 26: “They (Benjamin, Hughes and backers of the stadium plan) also don’t like to talk about the ideal location of Fluor Field right on Main Street in Greenville, within walking distance of all the adjacent restaurants, bars, shopping etc.
Compare that to the questionable location of the proposed Bull Street site, which would be within walking distance of nothing on Main Street in Columbia. Or the Vista. Or Five Points. Instead, it would be yet another ‘entertainment district,’ an isolated outpost trying to cannibalize existing venues.”

While the financing of the proposed stadium is obviously an important issue, opponents have put too much emphasis on where the money would come from and not enough on where the facility would be. To call the location risky is an understatement, and private developers would never use their own money to put it there. But again, these aren’t private developers using their own money, they’re politicians using your money.

Unless you stop them. While Benjamin was able to muster a 4-3 vote on first reading on March 4, it will require flipping only one member of council to defeat the plan when it comes to second reading on March 18. 

Opponents should focus on Councilman Cameron Runyan.

Why? Because the other supporters of the stadium plan are either not up for re-election next year (Steve Benjamin and Sam Davis), are hopeless when it comes to spending tax money on real estate ventures (Benjamin and Davis again) or feel comfortable about their re-election prospects (Brian Newman).

Not so Runyan, the first-term councilman who is already the subject of a lively Facebook page campaign entitled “Runyan Must Go.” He is no doubt something less than comfortable about his re-election prospects, especially in that he was essentially appointed/anointed to his seat by Benjamin. The mayor publicly endorsed him a year before the election and effectively blocked other Democrats, including women and minorities, from seeking the seat.

In return, Runyan has acted as, and increasingly been seen as, the mayor’s errand boy. To shake that image (and the underlying feeling that Benjamin would be fine with throwing him overboard), he desperately needs to stake out some positions different from those of his benefactor.

Opponents of the stadium plan should read Terry Brown’s comments again, and then read Cameron Runyan the riot act. 

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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