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Freier: We’re still pursuing new Savannah ballpark

Savannah Sand GnatsDespite all the talk recently about Jason Freier’s pursuit of a new Columbia (S.C.) ballpark, he’s still working on a plan for a new Savannah Sand Gnats (Low Class A; Sally League) facility.

The assumption by many — including Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin — is that the Sand Gnats would be ending up in South Carolina if that city comes through with a new ballpark. Not so, says Freier, who has been working Savannah officials on a new-ballpark plan for years now. And Freier certainly has options should he not want to move the Sand Gnats. There are at least four High Class A Carolina League teams on the market: one that can be moved, one that probably could be moved, one that’s on the verge of being sold and can’t be moved, and one that won’t be moved. The Atlanta Braves held an option to buy the Lynchburg Hillcats when team management was negotiating for a new Wilmington (N.C.) ballpark, so that team is in play. (We’ll hold off naming the other three.) As a current Sally League owner, Freier can’t acquire another team in that circuit, per MiLB rules, and we can’t see a Class AA Southern League team ending up in Columbia, though talk of that happening has taken place.

In a Savannah Morning News op-ed, Freier lays it out pretty clearly:

Due to the temporary lease status, we have been contacted by nearly a dozen cities seeking to lure our team to their communities. We have been transparent with the city and the media regarding that fact, particularly concerning conversations with the City of Columbia, S.C.. It is disconcerting to hear and read that we somehow have been engaged in covert negotiations to move the team.

Columbia has plans to develop a large downtown parcel of land, much like Savannah River Landing, which we and the master developer for that property hope will include a minor league ballpark/multi-purpose outdoor entertainment venue. If Columbia moves forward, our group would bring a minor league team to Columbia.

While one option could be to relocate the Sand Gnats to Columbia, we have been very clear that we would prefer to own teams in both cities. We are prepared to acquire another team to move to Columbia if circumstances warrant.

Whether or not a ballpark is a priority for Savannah is debatable: it was not mentioned in this week’s State of the City Address from Mayor Edna Jackson.

RELATED STORIES: 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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