Columbia can party one more time at Capital City Stadium before it’s torn down

Capital City Stadium then and now

See the history of Capital City Stadium baseball park in photos
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See the history of Capital City Stadium baseball park in photos

Apparently Capital City Stadium will have a bit of a swan song before it is demolished.

In an agreement with developers Weddle Real Estate Investments, the city of Columbia is requiring the New York company to pony up $60,000 so Historic Columbia can make a documentary about the ballpark and plan a “last tour” event.

The documentary and tour will be a fitting sendoff for the venerable old park, which has anchored a big bend in Assembly Street near Olympia for 92 years, City Council member Howard Duvall said.

“It’s a historic site and Historic Columbia always likes to document buildings that are about to be torn down with pictures and measurements,” said Duvall, an at-large council member. “So they asked us to do that.”

Columbia City Council delayed approval of the agreement Wednesday to hear a more comprehensive presentations of Weddle’s plan next week, Duvall said.

Historic Columbia executive director Robin Waites said “when preservation of a place like this becomes less viable, Historic Columbia is always looking for ways to capture what we can with photographs and interviews so that some part of it remains accessible to the general public.”

The organization will “move quickly to plan a really fun and memorable public event and document the site as completely as possible” when the agreement is approved, she said.

No date for the public event has been set.

The stadium’s demolition was imminent, but now developers have asked the city to postpone it so they can purchase it whole and leverage the state’s abandoned building tax credit. The contract for purchase has been extended to Jan. 15, 2020.

Bill Shanahan, owner of the Columbia-turned-Lexington County Blowfish Coastal Plain League baseball team, said while he hates to see the old stadium go, he’s glad that its history will be documented.

“It’s a wonderful idea,” said Shanahan, who also served as the general manager of the Capital City Bombers, a Class A minor league affiliate of the New York Mets, in the 1990s. . “I’m thankful to hear this could very well happen. There’s a lot of history here. Tremendous history.”

The stadium was built in 1927 by Pittsburgh Pirates owner and baseball Hall of Famer Barney Dreyfuss. Teams that played there through the decades included the Columbia Comers, Columbia Reds, Capital City Bombers and, finally, the Blowfish.

The stadium was the home of the New York Mets’ farm club — the Columbia Mets, later renamed the Capital City Bombers — from 1983 to 2004, when the Bombers moved to Greenville and became the Greenville Drive.

The Blowfish, a collegiate summer league team, played at the stadium from 2006 until 2014. The following year, the team moved to Lexington County, where it still plays.

In 2016, Columbia christened a ballpark at BullStreet, the former S.C. State Hospital campus, for its present minor league team, the Columbia Fireflies, also a Mets affiliate.

In its prime, The Cap hosted the early careers of baseball greats Frank Robinson and Ted Kluszewski, who played for the Columbia Reds. Over the years, visiting players and future stars included Chipper Jones and Tom Glavine of the Atlanta Braves and Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees.

A young Hank Aaron stepped into Capital City Stadium as a second baseman for the Jacksonville Braves. Aaron returned to Columbia for a pair of Braves’ exhibition games in the 1960s.

Capital City Stadium has stood unused for the past five years while developer Bright-Meyers of Atlanta considered building a commercial project there, at different times rumored to include a Walmart or a Kroger grocery store. Bright-Myers is now transferring its $1,425 million contract on the property to Weddle for the new sales price of $1.625 million.

Weddle is planning to build a mixed use development of retail and residential. The plans also include building a greenway and restoring Rocky Branch creek, which runs under the stadium frequently floods.

Bob Guild, president of the Granby Mill Village Neighborhood Association, said he too is sad to see the old stadium go.

“We certainly could have argued for restoring the stadium, but what’s done is done,” he said. “It’s appropriate (to document) all the rich cultural history associated with the stadium and no one can do it better than Historic Columbia. Now we are looking forward to a neighborhood gateway project that will make us proud.”

Jeff Wilkinson has worked for The State for both too long and not long enough. He’s covered politics, city government, history, business, the military, marijuana and the Iraq War. Jeff knows the weird, wonderful and untold secrets of South Carolina. Buy him a shot and he’ll tell you all about them.