In smaller cities, all politics are retail. That’s what Ripken Baseball is finding out as it drums up support for a new ballpark for the Augusta GreenJackets (Low Class A; Sally League): there’s a lot of effort involved in meeting folks face-to-face for a sales pitch.
Ripken Baseball President Chris Flannery and Vice President Jeff Eiseman met yesterday with the Augusta Downtown Development Authority to discuss their proposal for a $36 million retail, office and ballpark complex downtown, on the former Golf and Gardens property. They already have a retail partner in hand — Jim Jacoby, developer of Atlantic Station in Atlanta — and they have a funding plan in mind. The city would issue bonds to build the complex, paid back by Georgia’s version of tax-increment financing, Tax Allocation Districts. In other words, the increased taxes generated by the project would pay for it. Along the way, downtown Augusta would get a new attraction in a revenue-neutral form for residents.
Of course, this isn’t a new plan; Mayor Deke Conover has been pushing it for years. It faces opposition on the left — who say the site should be used for something nobler than a ballpark — and the right, who don’t want to see the city spending one dime to help a ballpark. Ripken Baseball hasn’t yet involved the nuclear option (moving the team), but we suspect they may need to play a little hardball before local residents take them seriously. A Sally League team is a very portable asset, and there are plenty of cities in the league footprint, like Columbia, S.C., who might like to discuss new ballpark with Cal Ripken Jr.