Vote opens discussion on stadium

The city inched closer on Tuesday to a possible new stadium-condominium complex home for the Augusta GreenJackets, with the Augusta Commission voting 6-3-1 to "develop a transaction plan, not site specific, relative to the proposed Ripken Multipurpose Stadium."

The vote came at the end of a contentious night that saw Mayor Deke Copenhave casting two unrelated tie-breaking votes and commissioners going behind closed doors for a half-hour to discuss giving general counsel Andrew MacKenzie a vote of no confidence.

The stadium plan, proposed several years ago by Ripken Baseball Group and Copenhaver as a $38.7 million downtown replacement for Lake Olmstead Stadium, lay dormant during the 2010 election year but was revived this month by Commissioners Joe Jackson and Matt Aitken, both of whom voted Tuesday to develop the plan.

The original motion on Tuesday's agenda, to "develop a financial plan" for the stadium, created a concern for Commissioner Corey Johnson, so it was reworded as a "transaction plan," although Johnson joined Commissioners Alvin Mason and Bill Lockett in voting against it.

"To take a look at this costs the city nothing," Copenhaver said, but Commissioner Johnny Hatney, who abstained from the vote, asked how the commission could task its administrator with doing anything "without it costing the city no money."

Mason, despite his "no" vote, reigned victorious, with MacKenzie declaring Mason's June 7 motion to put the question of a new stadium before voters on the 2012 general election ballot as legal, although Georgia law doesn't allow nonbinding straw poll questions on general election ballots.

It did allow last year's straw poll on the Democratic general primary, during which voters soundly rejected the idea of building a new stadium for the GreenJackets, yet asked for a referendum if public money is spent on the former Georgia Golf Hall of Fame.

MacKenzie had opined that appropriate wording could later be developed for the ballot, and "that is not a straw poll question," Mason said. After the meeting, MacKenzie said such binding referenda typically are attached to a bond issue or other funding source.

Commissioner Grady Smith, who initially said, "Let's let Mr. Ripken ... come to town with his package," later joined his colleagues in voting in favor of the city's working with Ripken to develop the package.

The motion left open the question of where the stadium, once proposed downtown at the vacant, state-owned former Georgia Golf Hall of Fame property, would be built.

Sites that Ripken and Jacoby Development has considered are the golf hall site and the city's tax allocation district at River Watch Parkway and Interstate 20, Aitken previously said.

Lockett said that Ripken had proposed the stadium in part to "make baseball available for inner-city kids," while those children wouldn't have access to the tax district, and wished for a Regency Mall location instead. Owners have listed that site's sale price at $52 million.

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