The discussion over whether Columbia should build a minor-league baseball stadium entered a new phase over the past few weeks, with groups on both sides pushing their agendas as city staff crunch numbers for City Council.
As Free Times went to press Tuesday, Council was preparing to take up the issue again at its evening meeting, though no vote was scheduled.
Under a deal proposed by Hardball Capital CEO Jason Freier, the city would commit $35 million or more toward building a multi-use stadium facility on land donated by Bull Street developer Bob Hughes. That’s on top of a roughly $57 million commitment the city has already made to infrastructure and parking at Bull Street.
As the debate rages, Midlands residents have been pelted with Facebook requests and emails from groups and council members on both sides of the debate.
The group Good Sen$e Columbia is made up of many of the same people who came together to defeat the strong-mayor referendum last fall — including former Municipal Association of South Carolina director Howard Duvall and former Richland County Councilwoman Kit Smith, according to former City Councilman Daniel Rickenmann.
And, claims Rickenmann, the supporters are the same, too.
“No offense, but it’s the same crowd that told us all these people wanted strong-mayor and it turned out we didn’t,” he says.
Columbia voters rejected the strong-mayor form of government 57 to 43 percent.
Good Sen$e Columbia has done several polls — one a scientifically sampled telephone poll of 402 voters that represent the city’s racial, gender and income diversity, taken during the last two days of January. That poll found 67 percent of voters oppose building a stadium. Rickenmann did not say who conducted the poll.
The poll also asked respondents to agree or disagree with a series of statements about a stadium. Eighty-eight percent of respondents agreed with this statement, for example: “Columbia has a long list of things it needs to do such as spend just less than $1 billion to fix its long-neglected water and sewer system, upgrade its parks and make our city safer. We need to address these items before we build a new sports stadium.”
A robocall conducted last weekend by the group found 55 percent of participants opposed to the stadium and 28 percent in support. Online polling at the group’s website is 78 percent opposed to the stadium.
But polling isn’t everything. According to Freier, before his company built its stadium in Fort Wayne, Ind., the idea of a stadium polled very poorly — down in the high 20 percent range, he says. Since it was built, the stadium’s approval ratings are up in the 80 to 90 percent range. That’s according to independent polls, Freier says — not ones funded by a group supporting or opposing the stadium.
Freier also says some of the statements in the Good Sen$e Columbia poll seem “very slanted.”
Meanwhile, another group, Building Bull Street, formed to support the stadium. Its publicly disclosed members are young professionals with ties to groups like Leadership Columbia. They’ve been penning editorials and urging people to attend City Council meetings.
Though Mayor Steve Benjamin has been pushing for a rapid decision in hopes of bringing a team here next year, the debate has slowed down over the past month.
Even if Council were to give baseball the thumbs-up, a 2015 season is looking unlikely, according to several council members.
“I have always thought the 2015 season is unrealistic,” Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine tells Free Times. “I think due diligence is most important and we do not need to sacrifice that to keep with someone else’s timeline.”
For 2015 to happen, “The sense I get is everything would have to hit to perfection,” says Councilman Cameron Runyan. “The weather would have to be perfect. … It is a swing-for-the-fences kind of thing.”
As for Freier, he’s still optimistic.
“We feel that 2015 would be aggressive but potentially possible,” Freier says.
The only way to find out, he says, is to start the process — assess the potential site, begin designing the facility.
Freier declines to give a drop-dead date for Council to make a decision.
“Every city does these things at their own pace,” Freier says. “The amount of time discussing this is similar to Fort Wayne,” where he owns another team.
He does say, though, that Bull Street developer Bob Hughes needs to know whether there’ll be a stadium at the site before long.
“The longer this uncertainty exists … it affects the development itself,” he says. “For two-plus years, every design that has come out for Bull Street has a ballpark on some part of the property.”
In fact, Freier says a developer that’s contracted to renovate the Babcock building and turn it into a boutique hotel “explicitly has an out in their contract if the ballpark doesn’t move forward.”
A Family-Friendly New Year’s Eve Carnival
From 6-11 PM on December 31st on Main Street, enjoy rides, games, karaoke, food, drinks and more! More information here.
Relaxation, Pain Management, and Stress Relief
Licensed massage therapist Allison Morris of AMR Massage offers 50% off your first session and every 5th session free of charge. Click here for location, hours, and more information.
Going someplace cool this weekend?
Let The Backpacker help you go lightweight, comfortable and in style! Patagonia, Prana, Merrell, The North Face and more! Click for location, hours and more info.
Great Gifts for the Whole Family
Don’t miss Half Moon Outfitters’ holiday sale! Up to 30% off Prana, Patagonia, The North Face, and other great brands. Location and hours here.
Ice Skate on Main Street
Columbia’s famously hot skating rink is now open! Additional information and discounts can be found here.
Hickory Tavern Is Now Open!
Find us on Facebook, Twitter (@TheHickoryTav), Instagram (@HickoryTavern), and visit our website for more info. 907 Senate Street in the Vista!
SEARCH FREE TIMES
Holiday Wish ListWhere to shop for gift ideas in Columbia this season:
U.S. Security Associates
Now hiring immediately for armed and unarmed security officers. WE TRAIN YOU! Columbia & surrounding areas. ussecurityassociates.com
F/T and P/T avail. Must have a clean driving record, organized and have a prof appearance. Please call for an interview or email resume to Kerry@crystalpool.com. Must bring a copy of your Driving record and a list of all past employers with duration of employment listed as well as telephone numbers for references. Call 803-865-1200
Real Estate Spotlight
WE’LL HELP YOU CREATE YOUR WISHLIST FOR YOUR NEW HOME! Choose from 11 communities & over 30 home designs. Personalize your home at our Selections Gallery. Our Customer Service Team gives you peace of mind in your new home. Got land? We can build Your Home Your Way on Your Land. 803-917-5583 3300. Sunset Blvd. West Columbia 29169 Click here for more info
CoMar Products Inc. Manufacturing quality surfaces for kitchens & baths since 1965. www.comarproducts.com
Town Center Apartment Homes in Lake Carolina THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS. Bran new apartments inside award-winning Lake Carolina. towncenteratlakecarolina.com