The Capital City’s new minor league baseball stadium in the Bull Street complex will carry the name Spirit Communications Park for a firm located a few blocks from the site, officials said Wednesday.
Spirit Communications will pay about $3.5 million over 10 years for the naming rights.
The Columbia-based company was formed in 1984 by 11 independent telephone companies and cooperatives across the state, offering voice, data, online and others services for businesses.
Spirit will pay $350,000 yearly, a fee that could increase over the 10 years of the agreement depending on attendance at the year-round ballpark, company president Bob Keane and city officials told The State newspaper after a news conference.
“Spirit Communications is delighted to make this investment in what we are sure will be one of the most important and transformative projects our hometown of Columbia has seen,” Keane told a small crowd of supporters at the Williams Building on the Bull Street site, near where the $35 million stadium is to be built.
“This is a unique opportunity for us to have the Spirit Communications name echo throughout the Midlands,” Keane said in a statement. “We’re confident professional baseball in Columbia is going to be a home run. But more than that, Spirit Communications Park will be a venue for the entire community to enjoy.”
Spirit, with its headquarters at 1500 Hampton St., has five offices in South Carolina, two in North Carolina and one in Augusta, Ga. The company helps small- and medium-size businesses with tailored electronic communications solutions, according to the Spirit website.
For at least a year, ballclub owner Jason Freier of Atlanta and Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin have said the stadium would be built for $35 million – $29 million of that public money. A city-funded feasibility study by consultants Brailsford & Dunlavey said the stadium would cost $41.8 million.
When The State newspaper asked them Wednesday whether they are going to keep that pledge, Benjamin said, “It will be built for less than Brailsford & Dunlavey said. It can be done for $35 million.”
Freier said, “We’re going to be extremely close to that ($35 million) number.”
The cost and public financing of the facility remain hotly disputed by critics of the stadium.
The city and Freier’s Hardball Capital will split the $350,000 annual naming rights fee equally. But the city’s $175,000 share will go into an upkeep and improvements fund for stadium operations.
Freier said his half of the revenue will be folded into the cost of having a team. “It becomes our revenue and the revenue is what allows us to field a team,” Freier said.
Actual groundbreaking on the ballpark is to begin by the end of the month, with a formal ceremony in early January, he said. The stadium is scheduled to be ready by April 2016, the start of that year’s minor league baseball season, Freier and city officials have said.
Freier has not said which minor league team he will bring here. But he has received the required approval from professional baseball organizations.
Benjamin, during his remarks, hailed the deal and cited its promise of jobs, tax revenue and a special entertainment venue for the metropolitan region.
“Spirit Communications is a successful, homegrown Columbia business that, along with its member companies, has done so much for South Carolina,” the mayor said. “They are helping position Columbia as a true center of global innovation, and I can’t think of a better partner for our new community venue.”
Spirit Communications Park will host more than baseball. The facility, to be owned by the city but managed by Hardball Capital, will serve as a gathering place for indoor and outdoor events.
From concerts to parties to business meetings and charitable functions, the stadium will host hundreds of community events every year, its promoters say. The park will hold about 8,000 fans for baseball games and 14,000 for concerts. A rendering of the stadium released Wednesday shows a football field on the ball diamond. Freier said that merely illustrates the facility can accommodate football or soccer games, if desired.
The 10-year naming deal with a five-year extension carries a provision that Spirit must pay $350,000 annually for the first three years, said assistant city manager Missy Gentry, who is City Hall’s liaison to the entire 165-acre Bull Street project, which is being called Columbia Common.
Starting the fourth year, if average attendance during any three-year period rises above 300,000 yearly, Spirit must pay more because the company name receives exposure to more attendees. The “inflation escalator” amounts to 11/2 percent annually, Freier said. That would be an extra $5,250 the first time attendance exceeds the benchmark.
“We fully expect they will pay it every year,” the team owner said. “They want their name on a successful venue.”
The escalator is cumulative, meaning Spirit will pay the 11/2 percent on a growing amount each year that attendance exceeds 300,000, Freier said. However, under the contract, Spirit’s $350,000 yearly payment is not reduced should attendance dip below the benchmark, Freier said.
Gentry said she hopes Spirit Communications will continue its ties to the ballpark with follow-up contracts.
Comparable naming rights figures are not available for Fluor Field in Greenville and Charleston’s Joe Riley Park. Fluor Field was built with private money, so the fee is not required to be released. Riley Park was publicly constructed and named for Mayor Joe Riley. He did not pay for that, his spokeswoman said.
Gentry said late Wednesday that she could not immediately access the city’s research about naming rights fees. “I know that we’re in line with single-A stadiums,” she said.
Spirit Park is being constructed to meet or exceed double-A standards, which is a higher standard, Freier said.
Robert Hughes, son of Bull Street’s master developer, Bob Hughes, told the audience Wednesday that groundbreaking resulting from the first of the recently announced letters of intent from 41 stores and restaurants is to begin this month.
“We said from the beginning that the park will be the catalyst (for the rest of the project),” Robert Hughes said.
In September, his father’s Hughes Development Corp. bought just more than 14 acres that reportedly is the location of the year-round stadium. That was Hughes’ first outright purchase of any of the parcels on the 165-acre site that the Greenville businessman has had under contract with the state Department of Mental Health for four years.
Hughes paid $1.5 million for six parcels that total 14.64 acres near the center of the property that once was home to the state agency’s primary treatment facilities for the mentally ill. Hughes had a Sept. 30 deadline on his first payment of $1.5 million to satisfy his $15 million purchase agreement in 2010 with the agency, mental health department attorney Kimble Carter said in October.
As of Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, city leaders said none of the projected 10 to 12 acres Hughes has said he will donate for the stadium had been deeded to the city. The city would then own the property as well as the stadium.
The city has hired sports facility design firm Populous Inc. as the ballpark’s architect. The city also hired a partnership to build the stadium. The group is led by Michigan-based Barton Malow Co. and includes three Columbia-area companies: Contract Construction, Construction Dynamics and Enviro AgScience.