The City of Columbia, SC has expressed an interest in building a minor league ballpark as the centerpiece of a redevelopment project. The Sand Gnats, the Mets’ a-ball team, are one potential new tenant. Through late January, the Columbia project was moving right along. Now, that the city has to figure out how to pay for the projects, the process is getting tougher.
Tuesday, the Columbia, SC City Council met again on the proposal to spend $92 million on the Bull Street Redevelopment project which will also include a new ballpark (accounting for roughly $35 million of the project cost). The action in the meeting considered different funding mechanisms for the City’s contribution to the ballpark, which mostly dealt with the type and quantity of bonds the city can legally and practically issue. (ColaDaily)
There’s a lot more about the structure of potential bonds here. The City can either “wrap” or “layer” their bond payments around their existing obligations. Wrapping would keep the City’s total bond payments (including existing commitments) to ~$2.5 million annually through 2044, while layering would keep payments on the new Bull Street bonds constant- leading to higher bond payments from 2015-2025, and then smaller payments thereafter. (ColaDaily)
The next big public date is March 4, when “Assistant City Manager Melissa Gentry said the date also would be the time staff could present council with three draft agreements:
- A Venue License Agreement that relates to the use of the stadium
- A Venue Management Agreement that covers details regarding management and Operation
- A Venue Development Agreement that outlines the development of the stadium”
The plans the city released this week, relied on two different bonds, a $24 million hospitality bond, and a installment revenue purchase bond. The hospitality bond is $6 million less than the $30 million price tag from February, prompting arts and cultural organizations, who already rely on that hospitality money, to fear they will face budget cuts. Mayor Steve Benjamin met with GoodSenseColumbia, representing the art organizations Tuesday. GoodSenseColumbia claims that phone poll conducted from “Jan. 30-31 of 402 registered voters … showed that 67 percent of respondents opposed a publicly funded stadium in the Bull Street development,” with similar results from a poll over the weekend (The State).
According to the Columbia’s Chief Financial Officer, Jeff Palen, these fears are well founded. At the $30 million level, he noted that “council members must consider the choice to take some funds away from organizations who look to hospitality tax allocations to help them finance programs and projects. “There’s a difference in $500,000, so who’s not going to get funded,” he said.
Stadium opponents suggested a general obligation bond to pay off the larger “investment purchase bond.” Over the bond’s lifetime, this should be cheaper through lower borrowing costs than the other boutique bonds. However, such a move would force the issue onto the ballot in November because such a move would exceed the City’s current $40 million debt limit.
Meanwhile, Sand Gnats owner/Hardball Capial CEO has an oped published in the Savannah Morning News on Wednesday in which he calls on the City Council to execute the Request for Proposal “RFP” for an economic impact study of a new ballpark authorized by a December 203 vote. Key quotes:
“When we purchased the Sand Gnats five years ago, it was because we wanted to own and operate the team in Savannah for the long term…. The Sand Gnats do not want to leave Savannah.
Over four years ago, we shared with the city a plan to develop a multi-use outdoor sports and entertainment venue in downtown Savannah.
For the last four years we have worked in good faith with city leaders to extend our time at and maintain and improve Grayson, patiently waiting for the city to conduct the due diligence necessary to make an informed decision about the proposal. We have been straightforward in all of our discussions, explaining that, while we love the historic aspects of Grayson, we cannot continue to operate there for the long term.
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.
In December 2013, Savannah City Council directed staff to put out an RFP for an economic impact study, conducted by an independent firm, to thoroughly evaluate all aspects of the proposed venue project. To date, that RFP has not gone out.
After four years of discussions, the time has come for the city to conduct the due diligence necessary to make an informed decision based on facts and not sentiment, nostalgia or emotion.
Sure seems fair enough from here.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday night, Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson outlined four key projects in her State of the City address.
Her priority projects:
- The “Canal District” in West Savannah, which will host a $120 million arena
- Support for the arts, including a $20 cultural arts center and $750,000 to local organizations
- Improving the city’s infrastructure by starting road and water projects
- Improving Public Safety through Police Department improvements
Baseball was not mentioned.
Unless Savannah commits to a new ballpark, the Sand Gnats will leave at some point. I think that is clear. The question is when, rather than if. Will a new ballpark will fly politically in Savannah?