Baseball management group pitches to Bull Street Commission - - Columbia, South Carolina

Baseball management group pitches to Bull Street Commission

Ballpark at Bull Street presentation by Hardball Capital Ballpark at Bull Street presentation by Hardball Capital

A management group is offering to make "a substantial investment" in a proposed minor league baseball club at the city's Bull Street development site.

Chief Executive Officer for Hardball Capital, Jason Freier, gave a presentation to the Bull Street Commission at its meeting Monday afternoon.  The group manages baseball operations for several minor league teams, including Savannah, GA and Fort Wayne, IN.

"Bull Street is more ripe for development," Freier told the commission, in comparison to Fort Wayne, which transformed a downtrodden neighborhood into a thriving entertainment district with the construction of a minor league baseball park. But, the site's lack of neighbors could be a problem.

"Our biggest concern with the site is that it's empty," said Freier.  "It's both an opportunity and a risk factor."

Freier said about a year ago, Major League Baseball granted Hardball Capital permission to explore the Columbia market. However, he said MLB officials prevent them from talking about which specific teams are interested in relocating to Columbia.

"Baseball is a great tenant," Freier told the group, because a baseball team guarantees 70 home games a year.

Mayor Steve Benjamin wants to build a year-round, multi-use sports and entertainment facility in the Bull Street development that would be home to a minor-league baseball team. The development is in the early stages.

Freier said if the city goes ahead with the ballpark, developer Bob Hughes has agreed to donate land to the city where it can be built.  That site could be 10 to 12 acres.

"If it weren't for the discussions with Bob Hughes, we wouldn't be making this commitment," he said.

When asked about how it could be paid for, Freier told the group Hardball Capital is confident it can secure about 50% of private funding for construction over the course of 30 years.

"We feel like we know what we're doing to be very efficient with our money," he said.

Although last week a feasibility study concluded it would cost about $42 million to build the ballpark, Freier said his company can do it for about $35 million.

Residents can see Freier's presentation and ask questions about the plan at a series of meeting this month in Columbia.  There is a meeting Monday from 6-8 p.m. at the Earlewood Park Community Center.

Also at the meeting, USC archaeologist Dr. Chester DePratter updated the group on his research at the old Civil War POW camp, Camp Asylum. He said he's been contacted by descendants of the Union officers where imprisoned there interested in what he turns up.

"We've only been there a week and we've already discovered this is going to be a difficult job," he said.  Old pipelines, building debris, trash and other urban castoffs are slowing down his research.

Despite the layers of trash, pipelines and other debris,  DePratter said researchers have found a 1853 silver coin, a button from a Union militia officer's coat and underwear buttons that are not decorated.

DePratter said a University of South Carolina student is working on a web site that will provide information on the dig and the public will be allowed to visit the site through tours set up through the Historic Columbia Foundation.

Copyright 2013 WIS.  All rights reserved.



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