Some businesses still don't want stadium

Building a new stadium downtown might cement the Augusta GreenJackets' affiliation with the San Francisco Giants, but many downtown business owners aren't convinced of the plan's wisdom.

Most contacted this week were not aware of a meeting, held last week for GreenJackets owner Ripken Baseball Group by the Downtown Development Authority, in which supporters praised the project as a boon to downtown development.

"I think it would put me out of business," said Steve Rossmoine, the owner of New Life Auto Repair, located directly across 13th Street from the 16-acre Georgia Golf Hall of Fame Botanical Gardens property being eyed as a location for the stadium. "The city would come in here and take this for parking."

Others contacted Tuesday were skeptical about the suitability of the site for the project.

"Did baseball diamonds get smaller?" asked Toni Guisto, an estimator at nearby Countersync.

The existing stadium, where players have trained for the Giants as GreenJackets since 2005, occupies 14.7 acres at the end of a two-lane road on the banks of Lake Olmstead and has just 500 parking spaces.

A feasibility study conducted for the downtown stadium proposal, which does not include a parking deck, cites the availability of 5,000 parking spaces within a half-mile walk of the stadium.

"It's really kind of congested enough already here," noted Minnie Davis, the office manager for the Augusta branch of an electrical union, which sits across Reynolds Street from the golf gardens' serpentine wall.

About a quarter of downtown business owners polled said they supported the plan.

"Anything that would improve it; a stadium would be maintained," said Vance Shimley, the owner of Nu Roofs, which adjoins the golf hall property at 13th and Reynolds streets.

Currently the walled, but unsecured site often serves as a place of rest for Augusta's homeless, and Nu Roofs has a firsthand view of its overgrown greenery, Shimley said.

"A ballpark," said Chris King, the owner of Sweet Lou's Crab Shack, located on Broad Street two blocks from the golf hall property. "I see the same faces day after day. Anything that would bring more people here would be a good idea," he said.

"Baseball is better," Pizza Joint general manager Natasha Shin said, of potential uses for the golf hall property. "We do more baseball in Augusta than anything."

A manufacturer of caddie uniforms and other golf gear downtown, International Uniform owner Fred Daitch remains remorseful about the failure of the golf hall, but said the stadium proposal had his support.

With the same being true for the golf hall of fame, "anything done right works," Daitch said of building a stadium downtown.

On Wednesday, Giants operations manager Bobby Evans intimated that Augusta could expect no longer-term commitment from the Giants without a ballpark "befitting of the great city of Augusta, Ripken Baseball and the San Francisco Giants."

Should the stadium plan move forward, it's unlikely it would be finished at the end of the Giants' agreement with Augusta, renewed Wednesday, which runs out in 2012.

If Augusta agrees to finance a new stadium, Daitch said he hoped it wouldn't be without a guarantee from Ripken and the Giants to stay here.

"You build it, I'll probably stay -- I don't agree with that," he said. "They have to come to the table with a guarantee they'll be here."

Before the Giants, minor-league Augusta teams served as affiliates for the Boston Red Sox and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Mayor Deke Copenhaver, who is running for re-election and told commissioners earlier this year it would be "a crime" for Georgia to lose GreenJackets owner Cal Ripken, said he wasn't surprised that a major league baseball team wanted players to train in the best facility available.

"It's not surprising -- you see new facilities being built in other cities. I don't think it's inappropriate that the Giants would weigh in to help build a new complex."

Copenhaver said he was leaving it to Ripken Baseball and stadium developer Jim Jacoby now to make the case for the city's financial involvement in the project.

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