Putting a new twist on an old idea, City Administrator Fred Russell said the impending merger of Georgia Health Sciences University and Augusta State University makes construction of a downtown stadium for use by the Augusta GreenJackets even more plausible.
"We're not talking about building a baseball stadium with other things; we're talking about building other things with a stadium that complements a growing university," Russell said.
Russell's meeting Friday with GreenJackets' owner Ripken Baseball, Jacoby Development officials and Augusta businessman Ed Presnell at a downtown restaurant was arranged before an official announcement of the merger was made earlier this week, he said.
He and Presnell, however, left a private dining room with a new stadium plan in mind that somehow incorporates the universities.
Augusta has "the infrastructure, momentum and growth potential" to carry the new institution to a higher level, Presnell said.
Details are sketchy about just how the plan would involve the new institution or how a $38.7 million development would be paid for.
GHSU President Ricardo Azziz has cited an interest in developing the state-owned former Georgia Golf Hall of Fame site, but never in terms of sports. Russell said a meeting between Azziz and the Ripken and Jacoby officials would occur later Friday but none did.
The meeting was not on Azziz’s calendar Friday, and other officials knew nothing about it, GHSU spokeswoman Christen Carter said.
The executives did meet with GHSU officials involved in university facilities, Russell said.
Backed several years ago by Mayor Deke Copenhaver, a plan to build a stadium at the former Golf Hall of Fame site has seen mixed reactions. The Augusta Commission initially panned the idea, but voted last year to have Russell meet with Ripken and Jacoby officials to "develop a transaction plan" for construction of a new stadium.
Friday's meeting was a continuation of the direction he received from the commission, now buffeted by news of the merger, Russell said.
Commissioner Matt Aitken, for whom Presnell is campaign manager, had lunch Friday with the Ripken executives. Aitken said he was excited about what is happening in his District 1, which spans all of downtown Augusta.
Neither Aitken nor Russell would speak about the specifics of the latest stadium proposal. Ripken officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Russell said the gist of what is in the works is a large, multipurpose stadium complex that includes retail and residential development.
Constructing a larger stadium would "open that up not only for baseball" but also soccer and other tournaments with "people coming from across the country," he said.
"I believe you could probably get a football field in there, is what they tell me,” Russell said.
Azziz denied rumors Thursday that the new university would have a football team, saying, "We're not going to have a football team."
Staff writers Billy Byler and Tom Corwin contributed to this article.