Sand Gnats' owner likely to find new stadium a tough sell for cash-strapped Savannah

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SAVANNAH, Ga. — The owner of the Savannah Sand Gnats is seeking city support for a multi-use stadium at the stalled Savannah River Landing site.

Hardball Capital CEO Jason Freier says historic Grayson Stadium is no longer a suitable home for the company’s minor league team because of the ballpark’s deteriorating condition and location outside of downtown.

A new stadium along the Savannah River that would play host to concerts and other events, in addition to Sand Gnats games, would serve as a catalyst to spur economic growth in the area, Freier said.

Freier is scheduled to propose forming a public-private partnership during a City Council workshop on Thursday. He said he is seeking a partnership similar to one that Hardball Capital formed with Fort Wayne, Ind. Fort Wayne’s Parkview Field was built using a combination of public and private funding, with the city putting up about $25 million and Hardball investing about $5 million.

Freier said he hopes to have a new stadium built for the 2016 season.

The Sand Gnats are contracted with Savannah to play one more year at Grayson. Comments made in the summer by Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin suggested the Sand Gnats may be considering a move there after the contract’s expiration.

It is not clear whether the private owners of Savannah River Landing would be interested in the idea of building a stadium on the property. The 40-acre site was to be an extension of the downtown Historic District with residential and commercial development, but the 2008 economic downturn halted development.

Hardball is eyeing the site partly because of the infrastructure already in place, Freier said. With the city focused on building a $120 million arena in west Savannah, Hardball Capital will likely face a tough sell.

The city does not have funding for a new stadium, and only about $100,000 in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds remain for Grayson, said Leisure Services Chief Joe Shearouse.

“I don’t think they have plans to go, but if someone offers them a stadium, I think they would take advantage of it,” Shearouse said.


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