A vote by the Birmingham City Council approving a new downtown ballpark may have been an important step in the process, but the real work is just beginning: finalizing the financials and coming to a lease agreement with the Birmingham Barons (Class AA; Southern League).
The Barons are key to the ballpark actually being built; with no Barons as a tenant, there will be no ballpark. The plan is for Birmingham to borrow money to build the ballpark and retain ownership, with the Barons as the main tenant.
The ballpark will be part of a larger development called Parkside in the downtown Railroad Park area. A ballpark authority will oversee the ballpark, but the city’s downtown commercial development authority will seek a developer to tackle development in the surrounding area. The city envisions a ballpark surrounded by retail, mixed-use residential and restaurants.
For the Barons, a move from Hoover’s Regions Park will rely on the numbers working out. Simultaneously, the Barons will need to negotiate a lease to use Regions Park while the new ballpark is being built: we’re talking about a 2013 opening. The current lease between the Barons and Regions Park expires next month, but it provides for a five-year option, with provisions for an early buyout.
The total cost of the new ballpark could be as high as $58 million, with the financing coming from a hike (already approved) in the local hotel tax.
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