It went down exactly as Mayor Steve Benjamin promised: the Columbia (S.C.) City Council voted to move forward with a funding plan for a new ballpark on a 4-3 vote.
The deal with Hardball Capital’s Jason Freier commits the city to borrowing $29 million for the ballpark construction and infrastructure costs. Hardball Capital will pay $6 million toward the $35-million ballpark construction cost. Changes were made in the deal to encourage development in the Bull Street area where the ballpark is to be located, as well as to shift some other costs — utilities, mainly — to Hardball. Hardball Capital will manage the ballpark (technically, the Council was voting on this management contract) and supply a team. Freier owns two teams — the Fort Wayne TinCaps (Low Class A; Midwest League) and the Savannah Sand Gnats (Low Class A; Sally League). Freier could move the Sand Gnats or move another team — say, one in the Carolina League up for sale — to Columbia.
The discussion last night centered around the appropriateness of the city borrowing money to benefit a private firm. From The State:
The binding vote followed a failed attempt by the minority to delay the final contract until a cost/benefit analysis is completed.
That study will still be done. But it’s likely to be weeks to a few months before such an analysis will be completed because a consultant must be selected and must have access to development figures from master Bull Street developer Bob Hughes. City manager Teresa Wilson said Tuesday night the analysis itself is likely to take six weeks.
“This type of venue is worth it for a capital city,” Davis said in explaining his vote. The city gambled that public investment in the Vista would pay off, and it did. “It’s time to move (public investment) elsewhere (in Columbia),” Davis said.
The new ballpark is expected to open in time for the 2016 season.
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