THE LARGE mixed-use development that will be anchored by a minor league baseball stadium at the old State Hospital property on Bull Street is picking up steam and heading toward reality.
While we have raised concerns about how Columbia City Council pushed this matter through to approval as well as the amount of money taxpayers will pour into the ballpark and development, we are pulling for this project to be a phenomenal success. Frankly, given the city’s investment and the possible payoff, we need it to succeed.
It appears to be gaining encouraging, positive momentum.
Last week, Columbia officials and Hardball Capital, which will own the baseball team and operate the ballpark, announced that Spirit Communications had purchased the naming rights to the stadium. Work on Spirit Communications Park is scheduled to begin this month.
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Last month, developers said 41 stores and restaurants have signed letters of intent to locate at the development, known as Columbia Common. A groundbreaking is planned for the first retail building sometime this month. The 120,000-square-foot retail and office building will be built just feet away from the first base side of the minor league stadium. Greenville developer Bob Hughes said it will be called the First Base Building and likely will house restaurants or sports bars.
The First Base Building and the baseball stadium are expected to open in January 2016, just in time for baseball season that April.
It’s encouraging to see things falling into place.
Columbia Common is expected to add thousands of new homes, stores and offices to the city core; if it is as successful as projected, it could transform the Midlands economy. Even if it is only half as successful as projected, it will provide a significant economic boost. No matter what you think about this development, we all should be pulling for it to succeed.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to raise questions and challenge decisions made by city officials when necessary. That’s an important part of the process to ensure that they do their due diligence and look at every possible scenario in carrying out their duty to make the best decisions and act in the best interest of the public.
It’s incumbent upon Columbia City Council members to be good stewards of the public money and trust placed in their hands.
While we still don’t understand why a majority on the council felt the need for city government to own the stadium that a private, for-profit professional team will play baseball in, it was encouraging to see naming rights purchased — and so soon. Many ballparks open before that happens.
The one unfortunate thing is that while the baseball team gets to use its portion of the naming-rights revenue to further its pursuits, the city doesn’t get to use its portion to help pay off debt on the stadium or toward anything city related. Instead, the city’s portion will pay for upkeep and improvements to the stadium. Columbia will pay $29 million of the projected $35 million stadium cost; Hardball Capital will pay the remaining $6 million.
Spirit Communications will pay about $3.5 million over 10 years for the naming rights. The city and Hardball Capital will split this money equally, with each receiving $175,000 annually.
Like so many others, we also anxiously await Columbia officials’ announcement of just how they will pay for the tens of millions of dollars in new infrastructure they have pledged to provide at Bull Street.
As with the baseball stadium, the city pledged too much money toward infrastructure. It makes sense for the city to help pay for roads, water and sewer to encourage development of this unique tract. Developing the property will put prime real estate back on the tax rolls as well as serving as an economic catalyst. But if it is as good a deal as advertised, then the developer should take on more risk.
While we and others in the community will continue to keep a close watch over how city officials conduct the public’s business as this grand endeavor unfolds, we will be cheering for the best outcome. We need Columbia Common to be anything but common when it comes to how successful it will be.