Columbia rejects analysis of Bull Street, baseball stadium costs

cleblanc@thestate.comJune 10, 2014 

A view of the back of the Babcock building, part of the Bull Street campus.

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com Buy Photo

  • Other action

    During Tuesday’s council meetings, the city also:

    •  Decided to buy 10 police cars so that officers who live in the city may drive their cruisers home.

    •  Council canceled scheduled meetings on July 1, Aug. 5, Sept. 2 and Nov. 4 (election day).

    •  Council reached no decision on a water and sewer rate increase.

Columbia will not do a cost/benefit analysis of its public investment in the proposed Bull Street neighborhood, including a baseball stadium, and City Hall will extend a tax break to lure student housing to the property.

A divided City Council made those decisions Tuesday as it also discussed taking an out-of-state road trip for an up-close view of publicly funded minor league ballparks.

That trip is scheduled for late July, weeks after council’s June 24 scheduled final vote on a construction contract to build Columbia’s $35 million year-round stadium.

Yet again, council made a key decision about the disputed development on the 165-acre property by close margins.

The cost/benefit analysis was rejected 3-2. Mayor Steve Benjamin and councilmen Brian DeQuincey Newman and Cameron Runyan voted against conducting the study.

Councilwoman Leona Plaugh and Councilman Moe Baddourah voted to do the analysis. Councilman Sam Davis was out of the conference room when the vote occurred during a work session. Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine had told council she would miss the meeting because of a prior commitment.

The decision to allow student housing on Bull Street to become eligible for half off on its property taxes for 10 years was decided by a 4-2 vote.

Plaugh and Baddourah cast the dissenting votes to change a city resolution that initially excluded the state mental health agency property that is being sold to Greenville developer Bob Hughes for $15 million.

Earlier this year, Richland County Council voted to allow the first-of-its-kind tax break for large, private student complexes and large retail operations. The developer must spend at least $40 million. The county created the tax break at Benjamin’s request, the mayor has said.

Critics say the tax break for new complexes for students is unfair to developers of existing student housing who pay full property taxes. Supporters call the incentive a way to lure construction into the city center that will generate property taxes over time and attract other development such as restaurants and stores that cater to young customers.

City Council on Tuesday also made it easier for student housing developers to meet the $40 million threshold. Council decided to let soft costs count toward the $40 million – not just brick-and-mortar expenses. Soft costs include land preparation, engineering expenses and other outlays that are not visible parts of a building.

A road trip to Fort Wayne, Ind., Charlotte, Durham, N.C., or Raleigh would help council pick the best features of the stadiums and talk to local leaders about the economic spinoff of publicly funded ballparks, Benjamin said. He would like to take Columbia business and neighborhood leaders on the trip.

Council and city staff have been discussing a trip for a while, city manager Teresa Wilson said.

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