With future ballpark upgrades needed, the Savannah Bananas (summer collegiate; Coastal Plain League) and city officials are expected to discuss new terms relating to the team’s use of Grayson Stadium.
The Bananas have played at the city-owned Grayson Stadium since 2016, their first season at the ballpark after the Savannah Sand Gnats (Low A; Sally League) relocated to Columbia, SC following the 2015 campaign. Over the past three seasons, the Bananas have emerged as a success story under owners Jesse and Emily Cole, setting several Coastal Plain League attendance records along the way and becoming known for providing a unique and energetic gameday atmosphere.
Currently the team is using Grayson Stadium under an operating agreement that is set to expire on September 30. While the existing deal could be extended through the 2020 season if team owners request and receive city approval for an extension, the aging condition of Grayson Stadium is something that city officials acknowledge needs to be addressed in any long-term deal. For their part, the Bananas have shown interest in staying at the facility and team ownership was the only party to respond to a request for proposals (RFP) issued by the city last month for an operating agreement. Money for future improvements is going to be a major sticking point, however, as city officials are still trying to pin down a funding source for the ballpark’s repairs. More from the Savannah Morning News:
The Bananas currently pay the city $20,000 a year in rent, under the existing lease agreement. The new terms in the city’s request for proposals would require the operator to take over field maintenance, which costs the city about $103,000 a year, according to the RFP documents. The operator would also become responsible for providing janitorial services, pest control and paying the stadium’s electric bill. And a $1 surcharge would also be added to the cost of each ticket to help pay for stadium improvements.
In turn, the city would be responsible for capital expenses exceeding $5,000 involving the foundation, structure, roofs, walls, stadium seating, electrical and lighting systems, air conditioners, plumbing, and water heaters.
“It’s an old facility and we have some serious capital needs,” [the city’s Chief Operating Officer Marty] Johnston said. “We want to be able to address those because obviously the Bananas want to grow.”
The city has proposed including $7.5 million for stadium improvements in the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum going before voters this fall. The improvements are unlikely to be included on the final SPLOST list, because of the limited amount of funding and priority being placed by staff and council members on other projects.
Potential upgrades could include structural repairs to the grandstands, a replacement of box and club seats, a new concessions area and more, but the Bananas and city officials would have to flesh out many of these details in discussions over funding. Grayson Stadium is a historic facility, having originally opened in 1926 before being rebuilt in 1940-1941 in a project partially funded by the WPA following damage caused by a hurricane.