Stadium arguments can have little to do with game

Discussions between the city of Augusta and Ripken Baseball Group about building a new Augusta GreenJackets stadium got under way Friday, with Ripken Vice President Jeff Eiseman meeting with city finance, recreation and administrative personnel via conference call.

Tight-lipped City Administrator Fred Russell remained tight-lipped after the meeting.

"It was a wide-ranging conversation," he told Chronicle Staff Writer Susan McCord .

Now it's getting serious, so I called my baseball expert, former utility infielder Spud "Iron Glove" McGinty to find out what to make of this latest move. Iron Glove said this is how it goes:

BUY ME SOME PEANUTS AND CRACKER JACK... AND A NEW STADIUM: "We love your city and want to play baseball here forever," says Cash "On The Barrelhead" Gamer, a not-so-grizzled veteran of the baseball wars and now a team owner. "And we love the old ballpark. It's just not what we need. The revenue stream there is more of a trickle."

Gamer has told local politicians and taxpayers that he and his financial team, who might even be willing to help the city figure out how to pay for some of the project, would be real happy if the politicians and taxpayers would agree to build a stadium to replace the ballpark.

You see, ballparks, except in Chicago and Boston, are relics of a bygone era -- a time when ballplayers played day games in front of businessmen in suits and hats, who for the most part made more money than the ballplayers.

It was a quaint time when going to a ballpark was all about the game. Now, to hear Cash Gamer tell it, the game is not enough. What fans really want to do is go to an event. They need a destination. And a new stadium would make their city that destination.

"We need a stadium," Gamer says. "A place where, sure, there will be a ballgame going on for those few old souls interested in such stuff, but there will be many other entertainment options, each with an additional charge, of course: batting cages, pitching cages, endless food options, photo booths, fortune tellers, dancing girls and all the beer you can afford!"

"And then there are the stadium suites," Iron Glove continued. "Bet you never heard of a ballpark suite, did you? The private, completely enclosed and air-conditioned stadium suites are sold to businesses for very, very big bucks. The businesses then write off the costs and use the stadium suites to entertain and impress clients. They could do the same thing in an office across town with a big-screen TV in it for all the at-the-game feel you get in one of those sterile stadium suites. But wait, I forgot. It's not about the game anymore. It's about money -- money, money, money, money."

So, Gamer, mixing his sports metaphors, tells the pols and the taxpayers the ball is in their court.

Right now there seem to be two schools of thought: If we build it, they will stay. And we don't want to build it, and we don't care whether they stay or not.

Iron Glove said what happens next is pretty clear-cut.

"A: The city plays ball and the deal is put together for a new stadium. Team stays. Attendance picks up. Revenues are up. The people in the community who wanted that are happy.

"B: The stadium is rejected. The ballpark remains. The team leaves. The people in the community who wanted that are happy. But then a search committee is formed to recruit another team, preferably one not so bent on success.

"Now the politicians' quandary in all this comes down to how many voters on each side of the issue will be unhappy enough with the outcome to choose a new government team."

For most, it's a close call.

BACK AT CITY HALL: With no baseball items on the agenda, it was pretty slow at the Augusta Commission meeting Thursday.

One of the most exciting things they had going was Jeff Gorelick 's request on behalf of downtown merchants and property owners to find other venues for events such as the recent bike races that closed Broad and Ellis streets and kept disabled employees of Ruben's Department Store from getting to work. Gorelick said people on Ellis Street were locked in. He suggested using other places such as the Civic Center or the Regency Mall parking lot. He said he had called the mall's owners, who said they would certainly be willing for the city to use the lot, but when Gorelick asked whether it was in good shape, they said they didn't know.

The upshot was that Russell will take the matter in hand and report back to the board.

There were a few other things of mild interest, such as awarding the bid for a new roof for the Augusta Museum of History to low bidder Bone Dry Roofing of Athens, Ga. Whether Bone Dry will do a better job than the original contractor did in 1996 remains to be seen, but the name sounds good.

Bone dry would be unique for Augusta's public buildings, which for some strange reason have been plagued with leaky roofs for years. Chief among them is the Law Enforcement Center, whose water problems have been fodder for news stories since it opened in the mid-1980s. Leaks in the Marble Palace also ruined plaster and flooded floors for years until the Superior Court judges threatened to issue a court order for something to be done. The old public library at Greene and Ninth streets also had a leaky roof. So much for flat roofs and crooked contractors.

A CITY OF ETHICS: Augusta was recertified as a city of ethics by the Georgia Municipal Association last week. Hmmmm. Wonder who they had to bribe to get that? Just kidding. But the city does pay the GMA and Association County Commissioners of Georgia about $50,000 a year each for annual dues and conference registrations.

Most county commissions in Georgia belong to ACCG and city councils to GMA. But because Augusta is consolidated, the commission belongs to both, and commissioners attend the annual conferences and training sessions of both organizations. In other words, they double-dip. The ACCG held its annual conference in Savannah in April, and GMA followed suit last week.

Of course, Augusta's commissioners are benefitting from this rigorous extra training and seminar attendance. That's why they're so effective, don't you know.

Have a bang-up Fourth of July!

Reach Sylvia Cooper at sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.

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