Fireflies stadium on schedule despite flooding; team announces partnership

Construction continues on the Columbia Fireflies' Spirit Communications Park. Here is where concession stands are being built.
Construction continues on the Columbia Fireflies' Spirit Communications Park. Here is where concession stands are being built.

The small podium sat as the base of the concrete seating bowl, dwarfed by the structure surrounding it.

Spirit Communications Park, the future home of the Columbia Fireflies minor league baseball team, is taking shape.

A crowd was on hand at the ballpark, very much under construction, as the Fireflies announced a partnership with EdVenture Children’s Museum on a community reading program. The event also gave a chance to update the progress on Spirit Communications Park.

“Started out moving 65,000 cubic yards of dirt, of which we only have 7,700 left to go,” Greg Hughes, president of Contract Construction, said of construction, which wasn’t delayed much by October’s historic flooding. “Twelve-thousand cubic yards of concrete, of which we only have about 2,700 left to pour. Seven-hundred tons of steel have been completed, 5,000 tons of gravel are in place and finished. Proud to say we are currently on time and on-budget.”

Hughes said the cost of the stadium is $37 million and is expected to take 10 months to build.

The team will arrive from spring training in early April, but the home opener is set for April 14. Team owner Jason Freier said the hope is to have things in place – with some cushion – before then.

Freier’s group is also involved with the Fort Wayne TinCaps’ stadium, Parkview Field, one of the more well-regarded minor league fields nationally. Freier said there were some lessons learned from running that building. Most are small, operational things, but there were little tweaks such as widening the concourse for food trucks, using a more open concept for the outfield bar area and tweaking the placement of the press box to ensure a better view from the club lounge.

He said he expects a quick following because the Columbia area already has a strong connection with baseball.

“This has always been a great baseball market,” Freier said. “You start looking at youth participation rates and things like that, you go to some of the communities 20 minutes away from here and they are some of the highest youth participation rates anywhere in the country.”

He said the stadium will likely employ 30-plus full-time workers, and up to around 550 seasonal employees. Some could work as many as 2,000 hours annually because of events the stadium will host, the company averages about 650 a year in Fort Wayne.

Columbia mayor Steve Benjamin was on hand, talking about the long-term impact expected from the project, with projections in the range of $1.2 billion.

“We’re not slowing down,” Benjamin said. “Most of this region will see, for the very first time, the incredible promise of Bull Street.”