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Columbia lease negotiations underway; opposition arises

New Columbia ballpark

The city of Columbia (S.C.) is negotiating a lease for a new ballpark with Hardball Capital’s Jason Freier, with an opposition group arguing against any public spending on a facility.

The lease, which could be ready for City Council approval in two weeks, will cover all aspects of ballpark operations, including non-game events year-round. The cost of the new ballpark is still to be determined (though $35 million is the general range; a land donation of $3 million has already been offered by a developer), as is the financing method: whether the city requires a steep upfront payment from Freier or will spread the cost over a 30-year lease. (The city will make more from a spread-out payment arrangement.) The bonds for a new ballpark will likely be backed by the city’s hospitality tax, which now partly funds arts organizations in the city. Last night the City Council discussed the potential parameters of a lease and what could be expected from city taxpayers. From The State:

The talks with Hardball Capital owner Jason Freier could result in Columbia getting a cut of all beverages sold at the publicly funded stadium, including the prospect of liquor, beer or wine, the staffers said.

If Freier and council reach agreement on the negotiations, the payments would apply to any event at the year-round stadium – not just at baseball games….

Mayor Steve Benjamin has said many times in recent weeks that he wants an agreement in which Hardball Capital pays 60 percent of the cost of a stadium during a 30-year deal. The public share would be 40 percent over the life of the agreement, Benjamin has said.

A draft lease is expected for the March 4 council meeting. Freier also owns the Fort Wayne TinCaps (Low Class A; Midwest League) and the Savannah Sand Gnats (Low Class A; Sally League).

A group, Good Sen$e Columbia, says its polling shows citizens are opposed to city funding on a new ballpark by a 67-33 margin. That’s to be expected: polls always show opposition to city spending on a new ballpark, but those same opponents of the facility are happy after the first pitch in the new ballpark. 

RELATED STORIES: 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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