NORTH AUGUSTA — Jeff Eiseman looked out over the field littered with gravel, cranes and construction equipment.
He smiled and took a second to gather his thoughts.
“Awe and sometimes disbelief,” said Eiseman, president of the Augusta GreenJackets. “There’s a part of me in my mind knowing that this has been a 10-year battle, to actually see this, what I’ve looked at in renderings for years now and to see it physically come to life, there’s a part of me that’s having a hard time internalizing it.
“I can touch this. This is really happening around us.”
A drive across the 13th Street bridge is proof that SRP Park is truly happening. The framework is in place and the ballpark is rising along the Savannah River in North Augusta.
Next month will mark five years since the initial announcement that GreenJackets owners would seek a new ballpark and development near Hammond’s Ferry. Much has happened since, from city council readings and lawsuits over the $200 million-plus public/private partnership, to the final game at Lake Olmstead Stadium in Augusta, to the groundbreaking for SRP Park.
It’s all led to what Eiseman believes will be North Augusta’s signature landmark that’s first seen when people drive across the river. The work is coming to fruition for the city and GreenJackets, and it’s evident when walking through the construction site.
“It’s nerve-wracking to some degree because there’s so much to get done, but we seem, every day, to be whittling away and whittling away, getting closer and closer,” Eiseman said. “It’s hard to believe we’re not talking years, we’re talking months now.”
The same vision applies from the city’s perspective. North Augusta Mayor Bob Pettit said the ballpark is on track for the 2018 season and sees it as the culmination of a vision many years in the making.
“We’re very excited,” Pettit said. “It’s going to be a part of a big feature. It’s the future. It’s going to help rejuvenate the downtown area.”
SRP Park is a key piece to a major riverfront development named Riverside Village, which includes a hotel/conference center, offices, apartments, single-family housing and retail. Chris Schoen, of master developer Greenstone Properties, previously said the development would draw 300,000 to 500,00 people a year, with baseball as a catalyst.
Much of the 360-degree concourse around the ballpark is in place, including the areas behind home plate and around the front gate to show how accessible shops and concessions will be for fans. The entire stadium offers a view of the field no matter the location or angle.
Intimacy is a constant theme throughout the ballpark. Walk through the front gate and you’re immediately met by a view of the field. The lower bowl is in place and offers close views, while the upper level has a retro feel by hanging close to the field.
Accessibility is another constant. Fans will be able to get to the team store, shops and restaurants from inside or outside the ballpark. Concessions are steps away from the lower bowl, and the park will offer food and drink options at many points along the concourse.
“There will be a different experience at every angle,” Eiseman said. “The social experiences are something you couldn’t get at Lake Olmstead.”
SRP Park will offer plenty of features at every stop, including a retro feel to the team store with high ceilings, a kids zone beyond the outfield, a section similar to Lake Olmstead’s party deck in the right field corner, and a two-story restaurant building with Southbound Smokehouse and SweetWater brewery.
A home run porch will be nearby in right field to offer views of the river on one side and a close perspective of the outfield on the other side. A building beyond left field is starting to rise and will include the team clubhouses and office space.
One of Eiseman’s favorite features of the ballpark will be the technology.
A high-definition video board will be in left field and smaller boards will be in the outfield wall. The stadium’s lighting will be state-of-the-art and capable of many entertaining features. The technology will even reach the hands of fans by providing concession-ordering capability by phone from their seats.
“There are so many things I love about this ballpark,” he said. “I go on and on. I love everything about our design.”
SRP Park has its share of influences, from the home run porch seen in Charlotte to the covered concourse found in many newer minor league parks. Perhaps the most notable will be the outfield wall, which will mirror parent club San Francisco’s AT&T Park. The dimensions will be scaled down to fit the park’s setting, but the wall’s turns and corners will be the same as what Giants outfielders navigate.
Eiseman and Pettit said the park’s construction remains on schedule for an April 10 game between the University of Georgia and Clemson. The GreenJackets home opener is scheduled for two days later to kick off a new era of Augusta baseball.
“We haven’t gotten into the grueling parts of the winter yet, but they’ve physically poured concrete and we’ve got the base down,” he said. “A lot of this should be internal, inside work, so by the time it gets really nasty, we should be in a good place.”
“We’re on track and I’m confident they’ll get it done in time,” Pettit added. “The framework has been laid and the steel is going up.”
Before leaving the park on a recent visit, Eiseman noted one more simple but important feature that he’s particularly proud of – the setting. As the first sight for those traveling across the river into North Augusta, SRP Park is the culmination of hard work and determination that Eiseman sees as a destination point for the region.
“Here we have one river, and it’s such an underutilized asset and it’s such a critical part of the metro region,” Eiseman said. “To have this in a public space on the water and Greeneway, it’s going to set us apart from just about everybody in baseball, at least at our level.”
Reach David Lee at (706) 823-3216 or email@example.com.