Growth & Development

Get Ready to Talk Baseball, Columbia

By Eva Moore
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
    <td><div class=Mayor Steve Benjamin has scheduled a series of forums to discuss the prospect of baseball in Columbia. File photo

A new study says the city’s economy is robust enough to support and benefit from baseball. Meanwhile, a minor-league baseball team owner is making the rounds of Columbia, and the mayor is scheduling a series of public forums on bringing minor-league baseball back to Columbia.

In other words, it’s time to talk baseball.

According to a feasibility study by the firm Brailsford & Dunlavey released Jan. 3 by the city, a minor-league baseball stadium in Columbia could generate $400 million in economic impact, including $18.5 million in tax revenues, over the next 30 years.

The study notes that Columbia is among the biggest markets in the U.S. without professional sports of any kind. It has a population of 713,702 within a 30-minute drive, and that population is projected to grow 4.3 percent to 745,00 by 2018. The area has reasonably high household income and a significant corporate presence, all of which would help support a team.

However, as Baseball Digest notes in an article on the study, a minor-league team could be forced to compete for attention with the championship-winning Gamecocks baseball team.

The report fails to explore any downsides to minor-league baseball, listing only the potential economic benefits and jobs created by a minor-league team.

However, as Columbia policy analyst and baseball fan John Ruoff has told Free Times, minor-league baseball “doesn’t create much in terms of good, sustainable jobs”: Ballpark jobs tend to be part-time, seasonal, low-paying jobs. Ruoff also points out that public money spent on a stadium would be money the city couldn’t put elsewhere.

The average Class A minor-league stadium built during the last decade cost $38 million to build, the study notes, and that funding came largely from public sources. Columbia has already committed to raising public money for a stadium at the Bull Street campus if it’s deemed feasible.

Columbia City Council commissioned the study at a cost of $50,000.  As Free Times went to press, Council was preparing to hear the results of the study at its evening meeting.

Meanwhile, Jason Freier, the CEO of Hardball Capital, has been making the rounds of Columbia; he spoke to the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, and has reached out to media including Free Times over the past month. Freier built a 6,100-seat, $31 million minor-league stadium for the Fort Wayne, Ind. TinCaps, which opened in 2009. He also owns the Savannah Sand Gnats, which are reportedly considering a move to Columbia.

As baseball talk winds up, Mayor Steve Benjamin has scheduled a series of forums to discuss the prospect of baseball in Columbia. The mayor is a longtime supporter of bringing minor-league ball to the city.

Benjamin’s first community forum on “the opportunity to bring a multi-use sports and entertainment venue to Columbia” is set for Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the main branch of the Richland Library. 

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