April 7, 2014

The arm-twisting of Cameron Runyan

The next 24 hours will be known as “The Runyan Watch.”

The next 24 hours will be known as “The Runyan Watch.”

At question is whether Columbia City Councilman Cameron Runyan will stay solid on his pledge to vote in favor of a controversial deal that calls for the city to be the major backer of a minor league baseball stadium that is being sold as a catalyst for the proposed Bull Street development.

In a guest column in The State on Monday, Mayor Steve Benjamin and three council members — Mr. Runyan, Sam Davis and Brian DeQuincey Newman — indicated they will give final approval to the deal at a 6 p.m. Tuesday meeting. Last month, the four men combined to give tentative approval — on a 4-3 vote — to the deal. Their column lays out reasons why each believes it’s in the city’s best interest to take the risk involved in contributing $29 million of the $35 million projected cost of a ballpark.

Here’s what the column said about Mr. Runyan’s position:

“Councilman Runyan, a financial professional, sees a public-private partnership that leverages funds that by law can be used only on this type of projects and caps the city’s total potential costs at $29 million, protecting us from cost overruns. He sees a good investment with an incredibly high potential return for taxpayers, generating new development as well as new hospitality and property tax revenues that we can reinvest in our economy and infrastructure.”

Beginning with a weekend email from local businessman and former S.C. commerce chief Joe Taylor, Mr. Runyan has been getting a bit of arm-twisting over his pledge to support the ballpark. “Just so I am on the record with you on this, please understand that it will not be possible for me to support those that vote for this stadium agreement going forward,” Mr. Taylor wrote. “It simply is a bad deal with an unacceptable risk level.”

Mr. Taylor’s note sparked responses from others who criticized the deal as well, mainly Blue Marlin owner Bill Dukes and local developer Ben Arnold.

In a nutshell, the flurry of emails noted that the deal just isn’t good for the city, that individual business people in other areas haven’t gotten the kind of incentives being offered at Bull Street and that hospitality tax dollars could be spent on such as expanding the convention center, a move hailed as a way to bring jobs and economic development to the city.

In an email of his own, Mr. Runyan noted the “very large public infrastructure investments” that helped the Vista take off and said that he expects “ be judged by the fruit of the endeavor” at Bull Street.

Will the arm-twisting change Mr. Runyan’s mind and break up the thin majority supporting the baseball stadium? I doubt it. The Monday column by Mr. Runyan and the others served as a heads up to the community that this deal is going to move forward.

But if City Council members’ votes only counted if they could raise their hands, those who oppose the ballpark just might have a chance. It’s hard to believe Mr. Runyan would be able to must the strength to vote given Tuesday, given all the arm-twisting. But, alas, the clerk calls on council members individually to cast their votes verbally.

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