Hopefully, the conservative gods will forgive me -- but I partly agree with Lowell and Gloria Greenbaum's letter of May 7 ("Arts center would enhance river, city").
AS A PREFACE, we must face facts. Nothing will be successful until the city is cleaned up, painted up, buildings repaired, etc. Crime that is abundant must be brought under control. This includes the free flow of drugs that permeates the downtown area, and lewd acts -- i.e., openly urinating on sidewalks and Riverwalk Augusta. Prostitution is rampant and includes our "better" hotels. The last time I ate at night in a downtown restaurant, I went outside twice to smoke and on each occasion was propositioned by male prostitutes.
Our mayor is operating with blinders, or is so naïve that he has no idea of the sorry state his city is in. Whatever is placed on the Golf and Gardens property must be privately financed and voted on by Richmond County citizens.
Conservatively, and using the Greenbaums' figures, it will be necessary for a performing arts center with a 2,000 seat capacity to average one performance a week -- 52 annually -- to a sold-out audience and charging a minimum of $35 per attendee. This will give them annual gross sales of $3,640,000. With efficient management, the center should be able to completely finance the project without taxpayers having to pay for it. I say "Go Greenbaums."
But what do we do with the remainder of the property since a performing arts center will not require all 16 acres?
A downtown baseball stadium will, in time, destroy baseball in Augusta, and there is no reason to even vaguely consider it. If it were built, attendance would be good the first two years, then it would start decreasing and will get to a point that the franchise owner's margin of profit (maybe loss) is so low that he will try to sell it or relocate. Another operator will come in and face the same results. Then we possibly would get an independent league franchise, which certainly will not last.
Result? Augustans will have a $38 million debt on their hands.
COLUMBUS, GA., (in our South Atlantic League) has a nice stadium near downtown that has not been used in two or three years because of poor attendance. Several years ago, Albany, Ga., built a new complex for our league. It only lasted two or three years and closed because of low attendance. Except for one year of independent league ball, it has been sitting empty.
But we should not worry. Consider the following facts:
- The current stadium is in very good condition, and of the same design I used in 1988, which was planned for expansion. If needed, seats can be added along the left-field line or by going higher with parts of the existing structure.
- The franchise owner probably will never move the franchise. Where will he take it that will draw better than Augusta? Even if he left, there are several Class A teams that would die for the chance to move to Augusta. Actually there are Class AA teams that would like to come to augusta.
- Last year the franchise set an all-time record for attendance, and this year season-ticket sales were greater than last year, indicating another banner year for attendance. No franchise owner is going to walk away from such a successful operation. If the truth were known, the franchise owner probably is well-satisfied with the current stadium. Naturally a new $38 million facility looks attractive to him, but he is going along with the mayor without realizing the mind-set of the area population. Apparently, the mayor does not know either.
- The Lake Olmstead site is ideal, and I selected it because it was in the city limits and nearer our higher population density, whereas downtown is our lowest population density. Visitors and visiting players frequently and favorably comment on the nice pastoral setting, and players have been heard to say they prefer to play at Lake Olmstead than the new facility in Greenville, S.C.
- Fans should remember that we are a low Class A franchise (only short-season A and Rookie League are lower), and a stadium will sell out only a few times a year on special promotions. However, I would like to see 1,000 seats added, access and exit routes improved (widening Milledge Road, improving Woods Street and directing traffic to it); additional parking if needed; and additions to areas such as concessions, shops, etc. It can be done. Our present facility is better than many facilities in the SAL, and these added features will make it as good or better than most SAL facilities.
We built and they came. Improve it and more will come. Move it downtown and they will eventually go away.
(The writer is a former owner of the Augusta GreenJackets who helped revive minor-league baseball in Augusta with the team's return in 1988.)