City, minor league officials break ground on new ballpark

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - City officials and the CEO of the company brought in to bring Minor League Baseball back to Columbia broke ground Tuesday morning for the new ballpark on the Bull Street site of the former South Carolina Department of Mental Health hospital.

Officials from the City of Columbia, Hughes Development, Spirit Communications, and Hardball Capital held the ceremony at the future site of home plate of the new Spirit Communications Park.

"Today is about more than baseball," Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said. "It's about embracing a vision that we, the people of Columbia can do so much more than just what is expected of us. It's about stepping forward with a good dose of hubris and humility to say that we are Columbia a world class city, a city of progress, and a city of ideas."

Spirit Communications of Columbia has purchased the naming rights of the new ballpark, which will be a multi-use public entertainment venue. Upstate developer Bob Hughes is converting the site of the former state mental hospital into residential and commercial properties, known as Columbia Common.

Construction on the ballpark will be underway very soon with the foundations down by late March. The stadium is supposed to be ready to open in April 2016.

"We are in the heart of the development getting ready to construct what really will be the heart and the heartbeat of this project," project developer Bob Hughes said. "Baseball's influence -- we've seen it in many other communities, urban baseball -- the influence will radiate out from here helping make this project the tremendous success that Columbia has the potential for it to be."

As for the other development around the ballpark, Hughes has indicated more than 40 businesses have lined up.

"It's another venue where will not continue to lose young people, young minds, professionals," Columbia City Councilman Sam Davis said. "Where people who want more varieties in entertainment do not have to leave Columbia to go to Charlotte, to go to Atlanta."

But there remains one rather large missing piece from this development: a team. Hardball Capitol CEO Jason Freier revealed during the ceremony that he hopes to reveal the team's name and affiliation sometime in the spring.

The City of Columbia is paying as much as $35 million through Special Obligation Bonds to build the ballpark. The city will also borrow close to $200 million in the next 30 years, but city leaders say that investment will be paid back many times over the new revenues.

"This city is moving forward," Benjamin said. "We're doing it and we're doing it together. This is the beginning of something I believe truly, truly spectacular. We are Columbia and ain't seen nothing yet."

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