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Freier: We could open new Columbia ballpark in 2015

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New Columbia ballpark

An aggressive construction schedule and quick city approval of a financing plan could lead to an April 2015 opening of a new Columbia (S.C.) ballpark, according to veteran MiLB operator Jason Freier.

Freier, who owns the Fort Wayne TinCaps (Low Class A; Midwest League) and the Savannah Sand Gnats (Low Class A; Sally League) and was instrumental in the Harrison Square/Parkview Field development that helped revitalize downtown Fort Wayne, says Greenville developer Bob Hughes has agreed to donate land in the proposed Bull Street development -- priced at $3 million -- for a new ballpark. 

Columbia is the second-largest market in the United States with no pro sports (Tucson is the largest), and as Freier already has a good record of mixing development with new ballparks, there's an obvious appeal to Columbia officials to work with him on a makeover of the Bull Street area, formerly state land now primed for development in the center of the city. From The State:

[Mayor Steve] Benjamin has yet to disclose his plan for how to pay for the city’s share of the ball park – much less what City Council would agree to do.

But the mayor said the city’s chief financial officer is to lay out funding options at council’s Jan. 21 meeting. Benjamin said he has not decided whether to ask council to cast the first of two required votes on a contract or a financing package at that meeting....

Freier has offered the city either an up-front payment of up to $6 million and small lease payments for 30 years or little if any up-front cash but substantially higher lease payments.

What's not been stated: what team could be moving to Columbia. In the past Benjamin has positioned the Sand Gnats as the team to be moved, but it's not as though Freier doesn't have options: with teams in the High Class A Carolina League and Class AA Southern League on the market, we're hearing it's not a cinch that Savannah will lose its team.

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