Columbia moves to borrow H-tax money for baseball stadium

dhinshaw@thestate.com June 24, 2014 

Developer Bob Hughes' rendering of proposed plans for Bull Street, showing where a baseball stadium might go on the property.

HUGHES DEVELOPMENT CORP.

City Council moved ahead Tuesday on borrowing $35 million for a minor-league baseball stadium, ignoring a last-ditch effort to let voters decide the issue.

“People are asking me the question, ‘Why can’t we put this to a referendum?’” Councilman Moe Baddourah said of the 30-year loan.

After all, he said, Richland Library went to voters for permission to borrow money to upgrade libraries.

But Mayor Steve Benjamin said the people elect the council to make decisions, and the council takes out loans for millions in projects – to build sidewalks, buy police cars, improve water and sewage service.

And city attorney Teresa Knox said earlier votes by the council bound the city to fund the multi-use stadium off Bull Street near downtown.

“We’ll agree to disagree, how about that?” the mayor said, giving Baddourah a thumbs up.

Baddourah persisted. “But for some people, building a baseball stadium is not a service to the public,” he said.

His was the only “no” vote on the matter.

The loan will be repaid with future revenues from the hospitality tax, taking about $1.3 million of the $10 million the city collects on restaurant meals each year. Hardball Capital is chipping in on construction costs, too.

The contentious issue of the baseball stadium has dominated the council’s attention in recent months, and Tuesday’s exchange was brief. The funding package – paired with a development agreement finalized with team owner Jason Freier and developer Bob Hughes – set the stage for construction to begin in the fall.

The ballpark will be central to Hughes’ new neighborhood on what is now the State Hospital grounds.

City Council also approved the 2014-15 budget, including a $127.9 million general fund. That’s an increase of $3.2 million, or 2.6 percent, over this year.

The water and sewer budget is $127.6 million.

Councilman Cameron Runyan voted no on the plan.

The new budget does not require increases in either property taxes or utility rates. It goes into effect July 1.

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.

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