Spending $4 million to $5 million more to build Columbia’s minor league baseball stadium is unlikely, the team owner says.
Sources have told The State newspaper that owner Jason Freier has floated the idea of adding $3 million to $4 million to the $29 million commitment of public money. That infusion would be matched by an extra $1 million onto the $6 million that his Hardball Capital firm has pledged for the year-round stadium on Bull Street property.
Asked about his recent suggestion for more money, Freier said, “At various times, lots of things have been discussed. I don’t think that is going to happen,” he said of the extra $4 million to $5 million.
“It has never been (formally) asked for,” Freier said, adding, “I would say we don’t really want to.” Then the team owner added, “I would never put myself into a corner and say, never.”
Freier said he’s finalizing the budget to build and equip the stadium and plans to submit the spending plan to the city this week. He said he expects the budget to be made public by the city after construction bids are received.
City Council is to take up Tuesday a request to spend $1.6 million to hire a female-owned Swansea firm to prepare the site for construction. City officials say groundbreaking is likely later this month. The $1,658,525 would come out of the city’s $29 million portion for stadium constructions.
Further, council also is to vote Tuesday on accepting Bull Street master developer Bob Hughes’ donation of land for construction of the stadium.
Pressed Friday about kicking in more private money, Freier said “there would have to be a really strong business case for it. We’re stretching to do what we’re doing. I don’t want to go back to bankers and financiers to say, ‘Hey, we need more money.’ ”
But Freier did not slam a door on putting more private funds into the park, saying, it is a “difficult question.” His company put $3.2 million into upgrades over recent years at the Fort Wayne, Ind., park where he has a minor league team, Freier said.
Decisions on a budget for building Columbia’s stadium remain in flux as Freier, the city and the construction consultants seek the best prices on major and minor amenities. “The ($35 million construction) budget being as tight as it is, we’ve been in the process for the past several months of making really difficult decisions. I wouldn’t say there’s anything that is absolutely priced.
“We are pricing somethings and the city is pricing somethings. The majority of this is being priced by the contractors (a consortium of companies hired by the city).”
One area that remains a question is what precisely is underground at the site.
Steam and cooling lines once fed by a S.C. Department of Mental Health energy plant are known to lie in the path of the stadium, said Mark Binkley, a senior administrator at the agency that sold Hughes 165 acres for his housing, retail and commercial complex.
“They’re everywhere and they are old and spring leaks,” Binkley said last week. Water, sewer and power lines also snake through the property like a “cobweb,” added Kim Carter, an agency lawyer who has worked on the sale of the state property.
“Hughes Development Corporation has been well aware for some time of the utility lines,” Binkley said, “so I assume they have factored that in.”
Three structures – the Wilson building, the Leiber building and a classroom once used for the Hall Institute school – are to be demolished, Binkley said.
The mental health agency is paying to cap a water line that’s in the stadium’s path and to reroute a line so that Hall Institute can continue to have running water until the building is vacated, he said. About 40 children continue to receive treatment at that facility.
Freier likened devising a budget to build a stadium to remodeling a home where homeowners and contractors don’t know with certainty problems they might encounter and they negotiate upgrading some amenities by downgrading others.
One major component of the stadium is unlikely to change, its capacity of about 8,500 for baseball, Freier said.
Yet he said, “Nothing is ever final until something is built.”