If you have not been following the story, if Columbia, SC agrees to work with the Gnats’ ownership group on a new ballpark, and Savannah does not, the Gnats will likely be headed to South Carolina.
According to Cola Daily, Council will vote on the following resolution:
“Authorizing the City Manager to commence negotiations to include financing strategies of a Venue License Agreement between Hardball Capital LLC and the City of Columbia and a Venue Management Agreement between Hardball Capital LLC and the City of Columbia for placement and consideration on the February 4, 2014 City Council Agenda.”
– Jason Freier of Hardball Capital, the parent company of the Savannah Sand Gnats, wants the contract between the city of Columbia and Hardball Capital finished by March to open a ballpark in April 2015.
The State Says Wait
The State is Columbia’s largest newspaper. In an editorial today, the paper urges the Council to avoid rushing into a stadium agreement so that council can to review their options and funding mechanisms carefully.
City Council shouldn’t rush to OK a stadium deal.
There has not been ample time to review necessary facts — such as funding and what an agreement between Columbia and a minor league team would include.
Some would like to rush this process so the stadium can be built and ready for baseball in 2015. But City Council’s first obligation must be to the taxpayers; if that means taking an extra week or two to review this proposal, so be it.
I Do Not Follow This Math.
From Cola Daily:
The city already has invested about $50 million in the initial agreement for the Bull Street Development with Hughes [the site's developer]. Councilwoman Leona Plaugh also said the city is contractually obligated under the agreement to build two parking garages.
Jeff Palen, the city’s chief financial officer, said the two garages will cost about $10million to $12 million each, with infrastructure costs for water, sewer and roads totaling a little more than $31 million. Operating costs could run up to $42 million. All total, Palen said investment for the stadium and Bull Street could cost up to $93 million, though he said funding would be spread over a four- or five-year period in phases.
As I understand Palen’s math laid out in the preceding two paragraphs:
$50 million Initial Agreement (first paragraph above)
$42 million Parking Garages + infrastructure + Operating
$92 million Total
My point is that I do not see a ballpark in the preceding three lines. Add a $35 million ballpark to the $92 million the City of Columbia has already committed, and the price tag rises to $127 total. How the ballpark is financed and the share of costs borne by the city are still subject to negotiation, so the City’s share will likely be less than 100% of $35 million.
The preceding deals only with the cost side to the City and does not touch revenue, which should be significant. The ballpark (through lease payments and taxes) and the parking garages (through usage fees) will generate income directly for the City. In theory, the city’s costs are investments that will be paid off in whole or in part by economic activity and taxes in the area spurred by the garages and ballpark.
A Mets Team?
Again, the Mets’ Player Development Contract (PDC) with the Savannah Sand Gnats runs through the 2014 season. Extensions must be mutual. If the Gnats were to move to Columbia, the Mets would most likely be thrilled to extend their working agreement so that their prospects would play in a new-state of the art facility.
If the Columbia City Council approves the resolution above, they will have taken the next important step toward building a ballpark. Any other action is worse for the stadium. Even a minor delay now makes getting a ballpark up and running for Opening Day, 2015 harder.