Durham sets example for Columbia's possible minor-league basebal - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

Durham sets example for Columbia's possible minor-league baseball success

DURHAM, NC (WIS) -- From a dancing mascot to an eyeball race, the Durham Bulls have everything a minor league team is expected to have. In minor league baseball, it's as much about, if not more, what goes on between the innings as the actual play of the game.

It's the same family-friendly entertainment coming to Columbia in 2016.

Yes, there was hesitation to spend money to build a new ballpark for the Bulls, just like concerns in Columbia.

In 1991, voters rejected a referendum that would have paid for ballpark construction. But the City of Durham found a way to finance construction through a Certificate of Participation. The city made the investment, and ballpark revenues paid the return.

"This area was basically dead," said Durham Mayor Bill Bell. "This ballpark has really been the catalyst for downtown development. It's been a spark, bringing in new buildings, restaurants, new jobs. It's really become a 24/7 destination for downtown Durham."

Now, that investment is complete. Original construction of Durham Bulls Athletic Park is paid off.

Longtime Bulls fans like Geraud Staton appreciate the investment.

"It's been very big," he said. "Other than giving people a reason to come, they started putting up restaurants, things like that and that gave people a reason to stay. So that was a very big deal for us.  It kept us going."

Staton remembers what the neighborhood was like before the ballpark was built.

"There was very little here," he said. "When I was here the city smelled of tobacco still."

Developers saved historic tobacco warehouses, built new office space, and designed the ballpark to blend in with the existing neighborhood. You can't tell where the ballpark ends and the neighborhood begins.

"We had a very small stadium close to the middle of town," Staton said. "When they put this one in, it just got much better."

"The ballpark isn't just about the team," Greg Miller said. "This is about bringing a community in as well. So it's more than just a baseball game. It's also a community event."

He's lived in Raleigh for 23 years, but he was the same graduating class as Mayor Benjamin's at the University of South Carolina.

"This is about bringing a community in as well. So it's more than just a baseball game. It's also a community event."

That old stadium was used for scenes in the film, Bull Durham. Staton and his little-league baseball team were extras in some of the game scenes.

"I think the movie was cool for us as locals, we were like ‘Ooh, that's our ballclub,' you know, that was very cool. I think mostly hat it did was it gave us a little more validity and that was cool for us."

"The movie, Bull Durham, gave it its presence," said Bell. "It's national name – Durham Bulls."

"You definitely want to do it," Staton said to the people of Columbia questioning the decision to build a ballpark at Bull Street. "It makes a big difference for families. It gives people a great sense of community, so it's wonderful. It's a great thing."

"If there's a sports team in Columbia, it's going to do well because the passion that goes on with Gamecock football, Gamecock baseball and all the other sports, I really think that's something that could really help bring Columbia together," Miller said. "I do think Columbia could support a minor-league baseball team."

Miller often attends University of South Carolina baseball games, and he doesn't think a minor-league team will compete with USC for fans.

"If the teams partner together well I really believe that experience can bleed over from one team to another," he said. "So the passion that goes with that can go with the minor league team as well."

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