Commissioners support plan, but with questions

Augusta is not even to first base in making a downtown baseball stadium a reality, but city officials say it would be an economic home run if the money to study and build it can be raised.

 

"I feel anything we can do to revitalize downtown Augusta and bring people to the city would be good for Augusta," said Augusta Commissioner Calvin Holland, a member of the Downtown Stadium Exploratory Committee appointed by Mayor Deke Copenhaver and Ripken Baseball officials.

The committee will study the feasibility of a proposed $20 million, state-of-the-art ballpark on the Savannah River between 11th and 13th streets, which could bring minor league baseball's Augusta GreenJackets downtown within three years.

The three main hurdles would be getting state approval for the state-owned land and finding a funding source, according to City Administrator Fred Russell.

"We need to decide how to secure the land from the state," he said. "And then we need a funding source for the study and to build the stadium. And the community would have to voice their support at the ballot box."

Although a $50,000 to $75,000 study has been proposed, it's too early to say exactly how it would be financed, the mayor and Mr. Holland said.

"Right now, everything is on the drawing board, and no decision has been made about where the money is going to come from," Mr. Holland said. "My main concern is that the city of Augusta agrees with this."

Mr. Copenhaver said the public-financing component of the public-private venture would be general obligation bonds, which would have to be approved by voters.

"As I have said, when it is time, I would be more than happy to put this project to the people for a vote as I firmly believe we can build broad-based support for it," Mr. Copenhaver said. "It will be a public-private partnership with Ripken Baseball participating. At this point, they are meeting with people in Georgia to see how this type of project is put together in our state."

Augusta commissioners would have to call for a referendum to issue bonds, and on Tuesday most weren't ready to commit to that, although they support the concept.

"We just aren't at that point at the present time," said Mayor Pro Tem Betty Beard. "I wouldn't be able to say. It's just going to have to make sense."

Commissioner Jerry Brigham said he would want to know more about the cost before committing.

"I'd have to have a whole lot more information before I could make a decision to put it to the voters," he said.

Mr. Brigham and Commissioners Marion Williams and Commissioner Bernard Harper said they had not been privy to the plan until immediately before the announcement. Mr. Harper said he heard about it on the noon news Tuesday.

"I believe as elected officials we should at least have a clue," he said. "We're going to have to sell it to our constituents. Why weren't we informed? Why weren't we in the loop?"

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.