Stadium plan in question

Even though a motion passed Tuesday to ask voters in next year's general election if they want a new downtown baseball stadium, that's not something the Augusta Commission legally can do.

Commissioner Alvin Mason's motion had the support of six commissioners, including Matt Aitken, who originally asked the body to authorize "exploring options" for city participation in a $38.7 million stadium-shopping-condominium complex on the Savannah River.

But Georgia law does not allow straw vote questions to go on the general election ballot, Richmond County Elections Director Lynn Bailey confirmed Wednesday.

"The only thing the commission or other governing authority can put on a ballot would be binding issues, such as a bond referendum," Bailey said.

The only opportunity to place nonbinding questions on any ballot in Georgia is in the party primaries, she said.

And since the Richmond County Democratic Party already asked voters about the stadium issue on last July's party primary ballot, it's unlikely to do so again, party Chairman Lowell Greenbaum said.

"It was clear that 70 percent of the people rejected it," Greenbaum said. "The idea that this will be on the ballot, unless the Republicans put it on, will not happen."

Greenbaum said voter support for a performing arts center in the same 2010 primary straw poll ought to be heeded as a way to increase Augusta's "coolness" factor, a need expressed Monday by Georgia Health Sciences University President Ricardo Azziz.

"We have no opera; we have a symphony that doesn't have a home," Greenbaum said. "The point, I believe, is that the baseball stadium at this point is dead."

Richmond County Republican Party Chairman Bob Finnegan couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday, but immediate past Chairwoman Sherry Barnes said she doubted the party committee would be receptive when she raises the issue at a party breakfast Saturday.

"Right now, because of the fiscal responsibility that we're all under -- trying to save as much money as possible -- I don't see how the taxpayers could go and foot another bill," Barnes said.

Aitken, whose District 1 includes both the Milledge Road stadium and the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame property, maintains that until the city explores the funding options, it can't dismiss the stadium proposal.

Augusta GreenJackets owner Ripken Baseball Group "has been here five years," Aitken said. "They like Augusta's charm, they like their fan base, they like the people in Augusta. I think we owe them the opportunity to just look at it."

Ripken and Jacoby Development also are open to exploring options for a stadium complex at another location in the city's new tax allocation district on Interstate 20 at River Watch Parkway, he said.

A Costco will become the tax district's anchor store when it opens in November.

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