EXCLUSIVE

EXCLUSIVE: Columbia stadium concept offers several stories of taxable property

cleblanc@thestate.comApril 5, 2014 

  • If you go

    A specially called City Council meeting for possible final approval of a stadium contract is scheduled for Tuesday.

    When: 6 p.m.

    Where: Council chambers on the 3rd floor of City Hall, 1737 Main St.

    Public comments: Council’s agenda shows the public will be allowed to speak before votes are taken. Public response to the contract has been strong on both sides of the debate.

    COMING MONDAY

    Significant changes have been made to a proposed contract between the city and Hardball Capital.

— In Greenville developer Bob Hughes’ eyes, a stadium in the center of his proposed Bull Street neighborhood in Columbia would rise about five stories above ground level and feature at least 75,000 square feet of shops, offices and perhaps a hotel designed for hip, young professionals.

All of that construction would be taxable, unlike the stadium itself.

Hughes stressed Friday, during an interview with The State newspaper, that his ideas are conceptual. He said he has not received letters of intent from any client for the stadium site nor would he discuss the values of the investments.

The mention of anything on the stadium property being taxable is recent and comes on the eve of City Council’s expected final vote Tuesday on whether to build a city-owned stadium.

Stadium proponents argue that a taxpayer-funded stadium would spur private investment that would bring millions into city coffers and provide the capital city with a new attraction, especially for young professionals.

Critics say if the success of baseball is so assured then Hughes and prospective team owner Jason Freier should build it themselves.

NEW DETAILS

Hughes released details that are not widely known among Columbia residents hungry to know every detail of his plans for the entire 165-acre tract.

They include:

•  The taxable projects would wrap around the stadium’s 16 luxury suites and extend along the first and third baselines and into the outfield.

•  Each floor would have 15,000 to 20,000 square feet of space with either access to the concourse or clear views of the field. Offices or hotel rooms beginning on the third floor would have views into the stadium as well as into the surrounding new neighborhood.

If each floor is built at the high end of the square-footage range, the taxable property could be as much as 100,000, according to Hughes’ estimates.

•  The height of the project would not block views of the historic Babcock Building’s red cupola. “It’s not going to go above the dome,” Hughes said. A client is interested in converting the nearby Babcock Building into a 200-room hotel, he said.

•  Construction of the taxable property would begin at the same time as the stadium but could be completed before baseball would be played there.

Hughes is prepared to hire a designer for the structure, in concert with the stadium operator, immediately after a final vote by council.

Hughes said interest in adding non-baseball amenities to the ballpark is clear, though he released no names of potential clients.

Clients are awaiting City Council’s decision on building a public stadium that would be privately operated, he said.

“This is like a canary in a coal mine,” Hughes said of the vote. “Everybody wants to know what’s going to happen with baseball.”

Taxable property can be constructed above tax-exempt property using the city’s air rights. Air rights are rooted in property law and are akin to easements, according to Hughes and Jason Freier, who owns the company seeking to bring a minor-league team back to Columbia and operate the ballpark. Both men are lawyers and developers.

THE ENTRANCE, OUTDOOR VIEWING

Access to the private space would be primarily through the plaza that is to be the main gateway into the ballpark.

The appearance of the entrance would be adjusted to whichever design the city and Freier would agree to construct.

Freier has said he would like to model the entrance on Columbia’s former City Hall during the early 1900s, when it was at Main and Gervais streets. That would be decided after more study, including soil tests at the site.

Hughes envisions shops along the streets immediately next to the stadium. Those stores would not have access to the ballpark because they would be constructed below the elevation of the one-third-mile long concourse that will wrap completely around the ball field.

More stores and restaurants would be located on the concourse level, possibly with access to or views of the playing field, Hughes said.

They would be placed after stadium vendor locations are decided and could not sell team items. The contract with Freier’s Hardball Capital prohibits on-site competition with stadium facilities and services for up to 1,000 feet from the plaza/entranceway.

Hughes said he has spoken with Freier about arranging ways for restaurant patrons to buy tickets so they can watch games or other Hardball-sponsored events from outdoor tables.

The offices and/or hotel above the suites would be reached by separate elevators inside the ballpark entranceway.

Freier, in a separate interview Friday, said he’s been working closely with Hughes on the stadium and the taxable property attached to it. “We’re very vested in the success of Bull Street,” Freier said.

His concept for the stadium is reminiscent of the city-owned park he runs in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Freier said he would like to have a children’s splash pad or water feature and a tiered concert area – both near centerfield where the concourse would be widest.

The concert area largely would be used for pre- and post-game musical acts but might double as a gathering place near a bar.

The concourse will vary in width from about 30 feet to as much as 100 feet to accommodate the entertainment features of the ballpark.

Freier also said his concept is to install the playing field in a “recessed bowl” that is 10 feet to 12 feet below the natural ground level. That also would allow a lower profile for the concourse.

That design would lessen the noise and glare from the stadium, he and Hughes said.

“It’s so little,” Hughes said of sound and light pollution, “that I’m willing to put my development all the way around it. It is (a) positive for more people than it is a negative.”

Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.

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