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New Columbia ballpark receives initial city approval

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New Columbia ballpark

A new Columbia (S.C.) ballpark won initial approval from the City Council on first reading on a 4-3 margin, with a final vote scheduled for March 18.

That the vote was close was not a surpise; opposition to the project had been gaining some momentum in recent day. The financing plan: Hardball Capital, led by veteran MiLB operatoe Jason Freier, will pay $6 million up front for ballpark construction. The total cost of the ballpark is budgeted at $35 million, and the city would bond the remaining $29 million, backed by hospitality tax revenues. Other sources of funding for the city includes shares of ticket revenues past 275,000 annually and half of any naming-rights deal, up to $350,000. If the Bull Street development hosting the ballpark does not attract $30 million in private investment, Hardball Capital will pay the city up to $516,000 annually. In addition, Hardball Capital will pay for surface parking (a ramp is planned down the road) and up to $250,000 for capital maintenance annually. All $35 million will be put into the ballpark: a developer donated the land.

A 2016 opening is now expected.

A prime topic for the opponents of the ballpark project: coming up with some hard numbers to back the city investment. Because the rest of the Bull Street development is still not public, (The Bull Street project refers to development at the former site of a state mental asylum in the middle of the city.) From The State:

City manager Teresa Wilson told council that she has been unable to find an economist willing to do a cost/benefit analysis without knowing details of Hughes’ construction plans which he has yet to disclose.

“We don’t have that now,” Wilson said. “So, I couldn’t get someone to commit to that type of study.”

Again, a final vote is tentatively set for March 18. No word from Freier what team could be moved to the city: he owns the Savannah Sand Gnats (Low Class A; Sally League) and could potentially move the franchise once the Grayson Stadium lease is up, but Freier has indicated he could buy another team -- perhaps from the High Class A Carolina League -- and move it to Columbia if Savannah moves forward with a new ballpark.

RELATED STORIES: Columbia ballpark proposal up for vote today; Freier: We're still pursuing new Savannah ballpark; Columbia lease negotiations underway; opposition arises; Columbia moves forward -- cautiously -- with ballpark planning; Freier: I may acquire new team for Columbia; Tanner: College, pro baseball can co-exist in Columbia; Freier: We could open new Columbia ballpark in 2015; New ballpark feasible for Columbia: study; This year should determine future of Sand Gnats; Columbia to study ballpark sites, feasibility; Sand Gnats exploring Columbia move?; Will pro baseball return to Columbia?Final days for Cap City StadiumShanahan: Blowfish negotiating move to Lexington CountyColumbia sells Capital City Stadium siteLooking back at Cap City StadiumClass A ball returning to Columbia?Columbia sells Capital City Stadium; Wal-Mart on the wayFuture of Columbia baseball in play

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