A new case study authored by an Augusta State University professor offers Augusta Commission members a framework for deciding whether to build a downtown stadium for the Augusta GreenJackets.
"It is my hope that the information laid out in the case can be used by decision makers in the community to make the best decisions for the economic development of our city," said Simon Medcalfe, an assistant professor of finance at ASU.
The 12-page case study lays out existing research on a proposal from GreenJackets owner Ripken Baseball and developer Jacoby Group to build a $38.7 million multiuse minor-league baseball stadium at the 17-acre former Georgia Golf Hall of Fame and Botanical Gardens site downtown.
The proposal, backed by Mayor Deke Copenhaver, has seen mixed reviews by commissioners and the public. The commission voted 6-3 last year to develop a “transaction plan” for financing the stadium, then voted to hold a referendum on the issue. A question on the 2010 Democratic primary ballot saw 77 percent reject the idea.
In the case study, Medcalfe notes the voter disapproval and that voiced by Sen. Hardie Davis, D-Augusta, who spoke out in 2010 against publicly financing the stadium without voter approval.
Medcalfe reports increases in game attendance of 117 percent to 184 percent in Greenville, S.C.; Greensboro, N.C.; and Charleston, W.Va. – three cities that built stadiums for existing teams.
The GreenJackets, he notes, could have extended their existing player development contract with the San Francisco Giants beyond 2012 but didn't, citing the need for a new facility. Regardless, Augusta is guaranteed a minor-league team through its membership in the Minor League Baseball association, the study says.
The case study concludes with a set of questions but reaches no conclusions. Among the questions Medcalfe raises are whether the rate of return used in a 2008 stadium feasibility study showing cash flows over 30 years at $623 million was reasonable, and whether an unscientific survey of game fans who panned the idea was significant.
Three Augusta commissioners and City Administrator Fred Russell said Wednesday they were unaware Medcalfe had prepared the study and hadn't seen it.
"Usually, they're pushing stuff they want," Commissioner Jerry Brigham said of similar case studies he had received. "We're a long way from doing anything right now."
Russell, who met with Ripken and Jacoby officials last year to discuss stadium locations and possible financing options, said he expected to learn more in a meeting with them later this month.
Of the two financing options for the stadium mentioned in the case study, issuing a revenue bond or a general obligation bond, Russell said the general obligation bond, which requires voter approval, is probably out, as is including the item on a new sales-tax referendum.