Potential minor league baseball owner meets with Columbia leaders

dhinshaw@thestate.comJanuary 6, 2014 

The potential owner of a minor-league baseball team in Columbia has been meeting with some downtown neighborhood leaders in recent months, laying the groundwork for his entrance into the market.

Jason Freier, CEO of Hardball Capital, who built a stadium for the team he owns in Fort Wayne, Ind., has used the opportunity to talk up community events — concerts and other sporting events — that could fill the stadium’s year-round schedule, those leaders said.

Freier, who is based in Atlanta, said he plans to attend Tuesday night’s City Council meeting to hear more about a city-commissioned feasibility study on a proposed ballpark. He also owns a team in Savannah.

He said he hopes the council will be in a position to decide soon whether to partner with him on a stadium as part of the Bull Street redevelopment project. Then, he said, he’d “kick it into high gear” and finalize specifics on costs and revenues.

Downtown neighborhood leaders said conversations with Freier in small groups, arranged by an aide to the mayor, Sam Johnson, have covered general information about the investor’s background and his intentions in Columbia.

Freier said he’s also met at least once with each City Council member.

“I wasn’t asked to do anything except offer questions,” said Bob Wynn, who lives in the Arsenal Hill neighborhood. “I found it instructive.”

Wynn said he was keen on hearing about the jobs a new stadium would create, as well as other events that could be held at the stadium.

He said he was assured the stadium would be designed “as a bowl” to suppress noise and light pollution – two key neighborhood concerns.

“It was really, really, really vague as to what would be happening at the Bull Street property,” said Elizabeth Marks, who lives in the Robert Mills historic district nearby.

“We’ve at least been getting bits of information,” added Rebecca Haynes, a leader in the Earlewood community who also serves on a city advisory committee for the Bull Street project.

The 181-acre tract, an historic site owned by the S.C. Department of Mental Health, is being redeveloped by Greenville developer Bob Hughes. A ballpark requiring a city subsidy has been portrayed as central to the success of the project. No other businesses have been announced so far.

Freier said he got permission from Minor League Baseball to explore the Columbia-area market in January 2013.

“We have been meeting with people for the better part of a year now,” he said.

“A business like ours is very dependent on public support, community goodwill.”

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.

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