It’s an idea that’s been brewing for over ten years and as Opening Day 2018 approaches, the Augusta GreenJackets (Low A; Sally League) are preparing to open SRP Park.
“It’s been a long road,” said Jeff Eiseman, President and Partner of Agon Sports & Entertainment and the Augusta GreenJackets. “Every time I go down to the site, none of it is lost on me because I’ve been circling this project for 10 years. I know I’m biased and it might not be the most expensive ballpark or the biggest ballpark. It might not have as many luxury seats or have the largest club level but in my heart of hearts, I know we designed a gem.”
The community seems to agree. With construction just over 80 percent complete, ticket sales have exploded.
According to Eiseman, season tickets currently sit at over four times where they were last year. Loge boxes, first and third base club seats, premiere box seats, and suites have all already sold out before the first pitch of 2018. The first event that will be held at SRP Park is the Clemson-Georgia baseball game on April 10, and it sold out shortly after tickets went on sale.
Excitement is building for SRP Park’s opening, but as Eiseman said, it was a long road to get there. It all began when recognizing the team’s needs as they outgrew Lake Olmstead Stadium.
“Lake Olmstead has so much charm and has a lot of curb appeal, but as an operator, it wasn’t highly functional. The stadium there is landlocked, and it wasn’t conducive to expand our blueprint. The model to create the environment couldn’t be done on that site,” Eiseman said. “Where the stadium was, there was a perception in that part of town that it wasn’t safe to come there and it was designed and built in a day and age at the dawn of the pre-stadium boom.”
Eiseman explained there were no air-conditioned spaces at the ballpark, there wasn’t adequate food and beverage service areas, and the concourse was built outside of the seating bowl.
“You had to leave the area of play entirely if you needed to go to the bathroom or the concessions stands and stand in line for 20 minutes. You would miss the action on the field. We knew we were missing a lot of things that a massive renovation wouldn’t have accomplished.”
As with many new ballparks, the first plan of action was decided where to build.
“Real estate dictates what we can do. We’re locked in on one side with the river that keeps up from expanding and a bridge that abuts the other side with an existing development on the third side. It’s a highly dense site.”
SRP Park will be part of Riverside Village, a mixed-use development in North Augusta, SC that will include everything from shops and restaurants to hotels, apartments, and even a senior living facility. Eiseman worked with developers to see how everything would all come together.
“I’m not a developer but got a crash course in understanding the process to create this kind of environment. We are still kind of amazed ourselves at the scope of it all.”
So how did it all come together?
“You’re almost reverse engineering the process. You look at it in terms of how much it would cost and how can we mitigate the risks to the taxpayer. In our case, we were looking at do we have enough mix of businesses to be successful and how we can enhance our community. Because of real estate in the area, we were also looking at how high up we could and should build,” Eiseman said. “You can’t just build a hotel with thousands of rooms with no amenities around and expect it to work. It was a lot of discussion and planning.”
Plans for SRP Park and Riverside Village were put on pause for a period of two to three years because a local resident sued North Augusta to stop the project.
“I understand why it happened. With any large project like this, you’re going to have some detractors. We were beaten up at city meetings from loud locals who were against the project. They have and should have that right,” Eiseman said. “It’s very challenging today to find a community that’s willing to take on tons of debt service in the hope that baseball will be the magic penicillin to help the city and help create a robust economy downtown. Communities need assurances that we will do the right thing.”
He added that developing relationships within the community and earning trust has been a big reason why the project overcame the two-three-year hurdle to continue construction.
“We have a relationship because we have a general partner who is a developer, loves baseball, and mixed-use developments. It’s a perfect marriage in regards to someone who likes creating new environments and helping communities,” Eiseman said. “You need to have relationships with commercial real estate developers to do it the way we’ve done it because sometimes these projects get a bad wrap. You get judged by work done by others in the past that have nothing to do with you. If it goes wrong, it becomes an example to the whole community.”
Luckily, the project has gone smoothly and Eiseman said the long-term investment will benefit the area.
“Economically, our path forward is pretty bright. Lake Olmstead was old and hurting the ball club. This facility wasn’t inexpensive but it’s an investment and moving forward, Augusta won’t need a new stadium. It will be around for a long, long time if people maintain it.”
Plans are already being made on other ways to adapt SRP Park for different community events.
“When the Masters Tournament comes to Augusta, this place is unreal. Room rates go through the roof, our airport becomes the world’s largest private airfield, and outside the gates of the tournament, there isn’t a whole lot going on,” Eiseman said. “The entertainment district that’s being built is going to be unbelievable. SRP Park will become not just a baseball stadium but at outdoor event venue that hosts a baseball team.”
So what’s the future of SRP Park and the Riverside Village?
“I think this ballpark is going to speak for itself. Every 10 feet, fans are going to have a different feeling and different way to engage with the facility,” Eiseman said. “There’s nothing like it in our community or 150 miles in any direction. I’m pretty certain that people will come to SRP Park and be like oh my goodness. I get it now. Their heads are going to explode and it’s going to be magnificent.”
SRP Park construction photos, taken January 10, courtesy Jeff Eiseman.
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