Next year, look forward to a cleaner, cooler concourse at Spirit Communications Park.
The Columbia Fireflies are planning to install 16 large fans in the concourse – additions that were left out of the initial construction project because of budget concerns. And the team is exploring ways to resurface the concourse floor, which is showing more stains than expected because of faulty sealant.
Both of the projects were presented at the first meeting of the Spirit Communications Park Board of Advisors, a group made up of representatives of the team, the city, Hughes Development Corp., Spirit Communications and neighborhood leaders.
The board is in place to approve or disapprove changes and upgrades to the park using money set aside by the Fireflies. About $200,000 is now in the account, with another $258,000 soon to be deposited by the Fireflies.
Under the team’s contract with the city, the Fireflies are required to set aside money to improve the city-owned, mostly taxpayer funded park. The amount to be set aside is linked to development milestones for the entire BullStreet project, which is the redevelopment project of the 181-acre S.C. State Hospital campus. The money is intended to keep the $37-million park, which is city-owned and mostly taxpayer funded, fresh and lively.
“The trick is to stay ahead of things and not get behind,” team owner Jason Freier said of the improvements.
Freier’s Hardball Capital owns the Fireflies, the Fort Wayne, Ind., TinCaps and the Chattanooga, Tenn., Lookouts minor league teams. The Fireflies are affiliated with the New York Mets.
The board also heard about drainage issues in the terraced berm area in center field, a popular area with families. The step-like area doesn’t drain properly, and standing water tends to attract wasps from empty nearby buildings on the old S.C. State Hospital campus.
“They come to drink,” Freier said.
The Fireflies are paying the $65,000 for the fans out of regular team funds, rather than the capital improvment fund.
“We have it, so we’re just going to do it,” Freier said.
The cost of the concourse resurfacing has not been determined, “but it isn’t going to be cheap,” said Gregory Tucker, the city’s special projects administrator who oversees stadium-related issues.
Freier estimates the new surfacing would be “six figures.” He also did not have a cost estimate for the drainage problem.
The board will reconvene in September, when the methods and costs of making the repairs will be clearer.
In the meantime, Freier said attendance for the Fireflies is up 25 percent from last year’s inaugural season over the first 38 games. This year’s attendance grew from 145,904 last year to 182,362 during the same period this year.
Freier said it’s unclear whether having Tim Tebow — the former college and professional football quarterback — on the team is boosting the numbers, or whether more people are just becoming aware of the team and more comfortable with the experience.
He added that the team’s marketing has been hampered by the stadium’s location in the middle of the mostly empty campus and can’t be seen from nearby streets, particularly busy Bull Street.
“People don’t think anything is finished back here,” the owner said. Being in the middle of the site is “by design and long term that will be a benefit. But being the first thing in, you’re in the middle of nothing.”
Spirit Communications Park by the numbers
182,362 – Attendance through 38 games in 2017
145,904 – Attendance through 38 games in 2016
$806,144 – Amount paid by the team last season in hospitality and sales taxes
$46,170 – The amount of money going to downtown hotels by players and officials attending Tueseday’s all-star game
761 – Part-time seasonal employees
30 – Full-time employees