A MINOR league ballpark would be a nice complement to the mega-development planned at the old State Hospital site on Bull Street. As a matter of fact, it would be nice to have a minor league team move back to Columbia as well.
But, as we have said in the past, any baseball park that can’t be built without Columbia taxpayers shouldering the load should not be built. If Greenville developer Bob Hughes wants a ballpark, he should lure private investors — including the team — to the table to finance it.
That’s not to say Columbia can’t participate in some limited way. The city already is on the hook to provide the development with infrastructure such as water, sewer and roads, which would include that needed to support a minor league ballpark. And we can see the city providing limited incentives beyond that to help lure a team to town, but only after the club puts its own skin in the game by making financial commitments toward building a stadium, which would reduce the chance that it would up and leave as soon as it gets a more lucrative offer from another city.
Columbia absolutely should not commit tens of millions of dollars in public financing toward what could become an albatross around taxpayers’ collective neck, as various minor league teams — ever searching for the next big incentive package — pop in and out of town.
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Mayor Steve Benjamin has pushed for a minor league stadium, but neither he nor anyone else has said where the money will come from to pay for it. Frankly, the public is still in the dark as to how city officials plan to pay for the $31 million in infrastructure City Council has pledged to provide for the Bull Street project. If the developer meets certain benchmarks, the city’s cost would rise to $70 million or more as other amenities are added to the list. Those include two parking garages — and a baseball park, which never should have made it into the agreement that will guide the development of the Bull Street project.
While this editorial board long has supported having minor league ball downtown, we don’t believe local governments should be major backers of stadiums for professional sports teams. Minor league baseball teams tend to be expensive to attract and even more expensive to retain — for modest return.
A recent study commissioned by the city, which will be presented to City Council today, determined that a minor league park could bring in more than $400 million to Columbia over 30 years in the form of tax revenues, personal earnings and private business earnings — including from hotel rooms, restaurant meals and shopping dollars spent by visitors. The study projects that a ballpark would cost $42 million, but it doesn’t say how Columbia should pay for a stadium.
It’s clear that a baseball park is considered a critical element to the success of the Bull Street mega-development. If so, it should be as important to the developer as it is to the city. Columbia’s substantial commitment to build the infrastructure for the overall project illustrates that it’s willing go the extra mile to support it.
But ultimately, it’s up to the developer, who stands to profit, to ensure its success. As it stands, Columbia — and by extension, its taxpayers — appear to be shouldering far too much of the burden.