Baseball stadium contract restricts city’s control of events at new ballpark

Renderings of The Commons at Bull Street.
Renderings of The Commons at Bull Street. courtesy of Hughes Development

City Council has little power to force the company that will run the new baseball stadium to limit fireworks displays or restrict game days or concert dates, the city attorney told council Tuesday.

“The simple answer to all those is, no,” Teresa Knox said publicly after a private legal briefing council had received behind closed doors. “We’re contractually obligated. We don’t have the authority to initiate those.”

The legal advice from Knox came as council grappled with a renewed wave of complaints from residents who live near the $37 million, publicly funded ballpark. Many homeowners were dissatisfied with a noise study released Monday that did not take into account sound from fireworks, concerts or crowds.

Knox was referring to the contract council approved more than a year ago giving Hardball Capital the right to operate the stadium as part of bringing minor league baseball back to Columbia.

Council members had asked its attorneys about the extent of the city’s options to address homeowners’ complaints.

Councilwoman Leona Plaugh pressed council to set aside its attorney-client privilege so the lawyers could explain publicly what council could and could not do.

Council decided against waiving privilege after Knox said she could answer the core questions without disclosing legal strategy.

“What Mrs. Plaugh is trying to say but not say,” Mayor Steve Benjamin interjected, “is that we can’t pass an ordinance that applies (only) to the baseball stadium.” Any restrictions on fireworks or concerts would have to apply citywide and could affect pyrotechnics at Fort Jackson, Williams-Brice Stadium and Famously Hot New Year’s Eve shows.

An effort to put restrictions on the ballpark that is to open in mid-April could be construed as “bad faith” that would violate the long-term contract, said Benjamin, himself an attorney.

Still, council could change its citywide noise law, Benjamin said.

After Knox spoke, Councilman Howard Duvall said rhetorically, “We can do more by getting their cooperation through friendship than to try to force something.” Duvall characterized the city’s legal position as “weak.”

In another matter, council voted to spend $29,000 to build a new dais and conference table in council chambers so that members can see and hear each other better during meetings. The upgrade also means that work sessions will be moved to the third floor of City Hall in chambers instead of in a cramped second-floor conference room.

The reconfigured dais with tabletop speakers will replace one that’s been used since 1951, David Knoche, the city’s director of general services, said.

Three years ago, council spent $1.1 million to refurbish council chambers and make other upgrades at City Hall.

Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.

In other action

City Council also made other decisions Tuesday.

▪  Approved spending $147,481 to pay the cost of November’s City Council election and runoff. The bill is $29,416 more than what was budgeted.

▪  Approved $8,000 expense accounts through June 30 for council’s two new members.

▪  Approved a one-year extension for the 911 dispatch center to continue handling emergency calls for Columbia police and fire departments as well as the Richland County sheriff’s and emergency services departments. The contract now extends to June 30, 2017.

▪  Approved Councilman Moe Baddourah as the city’s interim representative to the board that oversees the metropolitan bus system.