GreenJackets owners try to save downtown stadium plan

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Representatives from Ripken Base­ball Group and the mayor of Aberdeen, Md., spoke out Monday against accusations that have damaged the chances for a new baseball stadium and multiuse entertainment complex in downtown Augusta.

Ripken Baseball, owners of three minor league teams including the Augusta GreenJackets and Aber­deen Ironbirds, have been pushing for development along the Savannah River at the former Georgia Golf and Gardens site for more than five years.

President and CEO Glenn Til­ley and Jeff Eiseman, the vice president of sales and marketing brought Mayor Michael Bennett to help dispel accusations that Ripken Baseball left Aberdeen in financial trouble when the team joined with the city and state to build a stadium in 2002.

“We have a great relationship with Ripken Baseball. Ripken Baseball has a great relationship with us,” Bennett said. “Things are moving forward, and I expect them to continue to move forward. I would wholeheartedly endorse and recommend Ripken Baseball to you all. With the amount of new energy and new commitment that they can bring to your community, I think you can’t go wrong.”

Bennett spoke in front of a group of about two dozen Augusta Rotarians, city leaders and media at Enter­prise Mill. The Ripken party was originally scheduled as guest speakers at an Augusta Rotary Club luncheon, but flight issues in Charlotte, N.C., delayed their arrival.

Augusta Mayor Deke Copen­ha­ver, Richmond County Demo­cratic Party Chairman Lowell Green­baum, Development Author­ity of Rich­­mond County Chairman Henry Ingram and Augusta Sports Council Executive Director Brinsley Thigpen were among the invited guests.

Eiseman said the meeting, set up by the Rotarians, allowed Rip­ken Baseball to clear up misconceptions and rumors. The downtown stadium plan hasn’t seen much progress since it was proposed more than five years ago.

“There’s always been the rumors that have been floating around out there, and I guess part of it was just kind of eating away at us because we weren’t addressing them and we weren’t getting out in front of it. Then these stories start to take on a life of its own,” Eiseman said. “We knew that we needed to reset the dialogue. The world has changed since 2006, and we recognize that. We didn’t want to be the bulls in the china shop coming in here and making crazy demands and trying to shove a project down people’s throats.

“We really just wanted an opportunity to be heard and have the people that are elected to have an opportunity and a say in helping create an entertainment destination that will unify the community. That’s the vision that we have and we just needed to make sure not only that we share that vision but that people understood exactly what it was that we’re proposing.”

The Aberdeen stadium was funded equally between the city, state and Ripken Baseball, Bennett said.

Bennett disputed a 2007 story published in The Baltimore Sun that claimed Aberdeen loses several hundred thousand dollars a year because of the stadium, despite selling out every home game in franchise history.

“As a citizen at the time, I can tell you that the city folks were not that happy with the things that were written. Most of us knew that the things in the article weren’t correct,” Bennett said. “Yes, the city has debt there. We’ve always had debt there. It is what it is. We were part of the process of building the stadium and we knew there would be debt and things are moving forward.”

Bennett said Aberdeen did hit financial hard times because of economic factors but said Ripken Base­ball was not to blame.

“Things were not going that well for the city just because we had folks that were more interested with borrowing money to pay for things that an operating fund should do,” he said. “I think that we’ve gotten the financial sitauation of the city straightened out and moving forward very nicely now.”

Eiseman, who has acknowledged the GreenJackets would be interested in a different location besides the downtown riverfront property, declined to give specific funding details on a potential stadium, saying the project hasn’t moved far enough along.

“A lot of this has to come down to the site selection, what’s available in that process to be able to do that, what phase gets built, what’s part of the first phase,” he said. “At this point, it’s still early for us.”

Augusta Commission members voted in June to allow city Adminis­trator Fred Russell to “develop a transaction plan” for a multipurpose stadium complex. Russell has met with Ripken Baseball representatives and said he hoped to “get a few of the location issues tied down” before exploring funding options.

What they thought

Henry Ingram, Development Authority of Richmond County:

“What we need is economic impact, preferably expansion of jobs, new businesses and increasing our tax base. And I really believe that this type of project can do just that, but at a cost. You can’t on one hand say there’s nothing to do but when there’s a project at hand say it costs too much or I don’t want to pay anything for it. There has to be a meeting of the minds.”

Lowell Greenbaum, Richmond County Democratic Party chairman:

“I thought that they explained that they weren’t here to target a place. They were here simply to give a concept, and I think that a lot more has to be done than give a concept. I’m not sure that they can convince people who have needs in the community that the current stadium doesn’t suffice. So I think they need a lot more explanation and groundwork here.”

Ed Presnell, Augusta Rotarian, GreenJackets season ticket holder:

“The city has been affected by a fire-ready-aim approach instead of ready-aim-fire, and quite frankly this is why I wanted to have (Ripken Baseball Group and Aberdeen mayor Michael Bennett) here. I also wanted to diffuse and clear up all the innuendo that we’ve been hearing back and forth as recently as a commission meeting two months ago about the relationship in Aberdeen, and it’s apparently extremely successful.”

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Riverman1
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Riverman1 10/04/11 - 01:09 pm
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Countyman said, "If you

Countyman said, "If you attended the Ironman, and people knew you were from Augusta. The participants would have asked you questions, and commented on what they liked about the city."

I was wondering how you knew what thousands said about the Riverwalk. You asked them and each one of them praised it. That's how you came to the conclusion. That was a lot of work. Good job.

Dipshot
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Dipshot 10/04/11 - 01:12 pm
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I don't remember that story.

I don't remember that story. Is that recent? I'm all for getting behind the small business owners who risk their own capital to improve downtown. It's really the enterprising and creative small business people who have made downtown what it is today. It's not about more government funded boondoggles.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 10/04/11 - 01:19 pm
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First, Jeff Eiseman, the vice

First, Jeff Eiseman, the vice president of sales and marketing for Ripken Baseball Group, said, “We really just wanted an opportunity to be heard and . . . we just needed to make sure not only that we share that vision but that people understood exactly what it was that we’re proposing.”

Then Eiseman declined to give specific funding details on a potential stadium, saying the project hasn’t moved far enough along.

What kind of two-faced guy is this Jeff Eiseman? First he says he wants us to "understand exactly" then he declines to give specifics. Give me a break.

Go read that Baltimore Sun article and you'll understand exactly how Ripken Baseball Group does business — in private meetings in smoke-filled rooms. The city goes into debt and Ripken gets all the revenue.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 10/04/11 - 01:28 pm
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LL, it amazes me we are still

LL, it amazes me we are still going through this. Remember a couple of years ago we posted the Sun article? We posted the studies on how stadiums don't help downtown areas. It's unreal the way they keep coming back against the wishes of the people. It's starting to be like that California town where the government voted themselves million dollar pensions. At least they got caught and went to jail. I don't know about these guys.

Dipshot
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Dipshot 10/04/11 - 01:31 pm
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Yep LL, more than 5 years and

Yep LL, more than 5 years and still no specifics. If they want people to understand exactly what they are proposing, don't they need to actually propose something first? So far this has all been a nebulous "concept" of a new stadium. Maybe it's downtown along the river, maybe it's not and is by the new Costco instead. Who knows? They say they have 14 sites in consideration. Russell says he can't come up with anything until a site is narrowed down, but Eiseman won't give any specifics. And aren't we all forgetting that the state still owns the GGHOF property? Have they expressed any interest in releasing the property for this project? Could they perhaps have other plans in mind for the land?

Pu239
284
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Pu239 10/04/11 - 01:34 pm
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Mom....can I have a baseball

Unpublished

Mom....can I have a baseball stadium? I promise I'll take care of it and feed it and everything.

augusta citizen
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augusta citizen 10/04/11 - 04:51 pm
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Riverman, I noticed that the

Riverman, I noticed that the comment mentioning a partnership in a downtown cafe is gone. I don't remember an article about it and hope someone will post as well.

Taylor B
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Taylor B 10/04/11 - 05:23 pm
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14 sites... but this is

14 sites... but this is called the "downtown" stadium plan. Not too many sites downtown a ball park could be built. State funding? LOL, the delegation would never let that happen, and the city doesnt even have a lobbyist up in Atlanta...

jleyes
24
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jleyes 10/04/11 - 05:34 pm
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This article is just snipets

This article is just snipets of what was discussed yesterday. The Ripken group said they would be making a significant contribution. I can't tell you what that means but I was under the impression it would be significant...millions$$$

Second the Aberdeen mayor said a lot more then what was edited down and refuted the stadium being an albatross in Aberdeen in fact it has provided stimulus. The original issue had to do with the city's mismanagement of adjacent land and nothing to do w Ripken or the deal anyone struck. The city is better off for having done the stadium and the mayor said that, but go figure that quote isn't there.

David H
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David H 10/04/11 - 05:37 pm
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Sorry folks a baseball

Sorry folks a baseball stadium downtown is not going to save our beloved city. As nice as it would be to have a facility like the one being mentioned here we can't afford another "Tower to Nowhere" (Port Royal) or any one of the other failed gambles on our prime river front property. Too many times we have been promised we'd get something special that has just turned out to be a really expensive mistake that the taxpayers are left paying for while the city elite reap the rewards.

I think it's safe to say that Augusta likes it's Green Jackets, Cal Ripken and Mayor Deke. We are grateful for the interest both Cal Ripken and Mayor Deke have in our hometown GreenJackets but we can not afford another strikeout with a publicly funded downtown stadium. We have been very fortunate to have dodged a lot of the problems that other cities have faced during these hard economic times. We as a city need to be careful how we allow our tax dollars to be spent on. It is very important for us to let all of our "wants" be pushed further down the list and continue to work together to keep Augusta's name at the top of companies lists as possible relocation or expansion sites. It is equally important for our elected leaders to respect the people's wishes. We cannot allow our elected leaders to intentionally brush aside the people's will and find a "Creative" way to finance something the people have chosen not spend their hard earned funds on.

Augusta is lucky to be the current home of the GreenJackets. Even at 17 years of age, Lake Olmstead Stadium is still serving Augusta well. It doesn't have luxury box seating or corporate suites that provide the ownership with more types of revenue but it's paid for and in today's economy that is a plus. Anyone who has been to a game would tell you the parking is terrible but you don't have to pay for it which is another plus. No, we can't walk across the street to the Mellow Mushroom but fortunately for us it's just five minutes away. We need to be honest with ourselves. A downtown stadium is a "want" and not a "need". Our current stadium at 17 years old seats 4,400 people. In our league of 14 teams only one stadium is smaller then ours: McCormick Field in Asheville, NC with 4,000 seats. Even with a record breaking year in attendance when the stadium saw 200,115 people pass thru it's gates to watch 68 home games it only averaged 2,942 fans per game or just over 66% full. We still have seats available at most home games in a stadium that might not have all the bells and whistles but serves our city and it's favorite baseball team well and it is completely paid off. Sure the ownership might have to rebuild an outfield wall after a storm or fix a few aged items but that is better to the overall health of this city then having to pay for a stadium that does little in return for it's citizens like so many other parks. Public money is supposed to benefit the public and not just a select handfull of people.

If the Mayor and Cal Ripken want to build a stadium downtown and do so with private funds we will come and spend our own private dollars at that new venue when each and every person is ready and able to do so but we cannot be backed into a corner or forced to take on projects that don't serve the city of Augusta or our citizen's interest.

Augustan's, don't let the propaganda machine fool you into spending your hard earned tax dollars on another project that will only saddle us with debt while propping up the elite once again. Don't let your leaders use smoke and mirrors to pull a stadium out of our back pockets even after we have spoken at the ballot box. Remember that it is the people of Augusta that make Augusta great and not a building, venue or stadium.

Taylor B
5
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Taylor B 10/04/11 - 05:50 pm
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Which mayor? There has been

Which mayor? There has been three, I think. Take our last three mayors and see if they would agree on this plan.

Dipshot
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Dipshot 10/04/11 - 05:51 pm
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I don't believe anyone,

I don't believe anyone, including the Baltimore Sun article, ever claimed it was an albatross, but rather that the city came out on the short end of the stick in the stadium deal. It simply has not been the big revenue generator that the city was hoping for and the city has struggled with servicing the debt it owes on the facility. It does seem to be attracting fans and selling tickets, but the planned development around the stadium was constantly delayed and has not lived up to the initial projections, and that is how the city was hoping to make money from the stadium. This is similar to what we have heard from about the proposed stadium here. We already know that other proposed private downtown developments haven't exactly panned out because of the weak economy: The Water Mark, Hyatt Place Hotel, White's Condos. And even if the city can meet the debt obligations, there is still the opportunity costs of publicly financing a stadium. The city can not simply borrow money for every wishlist project that comes down the pike. Public debt is not a blank check. A city has to prioritize.. if it goes into debt on a stadium, that's borrowing power that is lost for perhaps a more worthwhile and "wanted" civic investment. Considering the significant amount of debt that a small city like Aberdeen incurred to help finance the stadium, whatever other projects didn't happen because the city had overextended its credit line on the stadium venture? And was the investment paying off for the city? Well not to the degree that they hoped for. It appears that Aberdeen has managed to make it over the hump and has now been able to refinance their debt on the stadium, but that still doesn't mean that it was a good deal for the city. All indications are that some big mistakes were made that I doubt city leaders would make again.

Pu239
284
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Pu239 10/04/11 - 05:54 pm
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jleyes....Can you then

Unpublished

jleyes....Can you then explain why Bennett and past Mayors have tried to renegitoate the stadium contract with Ripken Baseball? See the tweet from Susan McCord that references the Baltimore Sun.

Dipshot
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Dipshot 10/04/11 - 06:01 pm
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But jlreyes, it's the

But jlreyes, it's the development of the adjacent land that is what was used as the the economic justification for a public buy-in on the stadium. This tactic is used repeatedly where cities are convinced to finance these ballparks. Also, revenue from non baseball events was significantly below the projections from the studies of the stadium proponents. That was another area the city was hoping to cover its expenses on the stadium. Cities like Aberdeen are convinced to invest in these stadiums based on faulty data. And we are hearing the same rhetoric being used as justification for the city financing another stadium here.. that there will be a private development component adjacent to the park that the city will profit from. Those promises rarely pan out, even for stadiums like the one in Aberdeen that sets attendence records. This stadium is being pitched as a revenue generator for the city, but the evidence shows they are not.

Dipshot
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Dipshot 10/04/11 - 06:09 pm
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Just admit that this more

Just admit that this more about emotion than producing a real measurable economic impact. It makes some people "feel" good to say their city has a fancy new stadium or some other status project. It makes them "feel" important. It's kind of like some middle aged man going through a mid-life crisis who goes out and gets a loan for a fancy sports car that he probably can barely afford believing it will increase his income, his sex life and overall improve his life. That's an emotional purchase, not one grounded in practicality. When we are talking about investing millions of public dollars in a risky venture, I want that decision to be based on facts and not emotion.

Dipshot
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Dipshot 10/04/11 - 06:15 pm
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Mayor Bennett seemed to be

Mayor Bennett seemed to be singing a very different tune before over the deal with Ripken Baseball. http://www.baltimoresun.com/explore/harford/opinion-talk/ph-re-editorial...

raul
3368
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raul 10/04/11 - 06:44 pm
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@David H. Well said.

@David H. Well said.

Dipshot
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Dipshot 10/04/11 - 06:47 pm
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yes, excellent comment by

yes, excellent comment by DavidH. The only way to truly settle this is to put it on a general election ballot. If voters want it the so be it, if they say no, that should be the end of it.

Taylor B
5
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Taylor B 10/04/11 - 07:07 pm
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Dip, the city cant put those

Dip, the city cant put those on the ballot unless they are bond referendums. Poll questions can only be put on in dem or rep primaries.

Dipshot
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Dipshot 10/04/11 - 07:14 pm
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well how about both political

well how about both political parties get together and put the stadium issue as a straw poll on their primary ballots? The key is that the question needs to be worded the same way on both ballots. That should settle it.

Taylor B
5
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Taylor B 10/04/11 - 07:19 pm
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The democrats already did, it

The democrats already did, it failed miserably.

Riverman1
70661
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Riverman1 10/04/11 - 09:13 pm
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Mayor Copenhaver-Boardman

Mayor Copenhaver-Boardman says there are creative ways to finance the stadium. When the cabal wants something, no studies and no information from experts will stop them. Remember the TEE.

Brad Owens
3648
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Brad Owens 10/05/11 - 03:44 am
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RM!, Funny thing happened on

RM!,

Funny thing happened on our facebook page, one of our members sent an email to one of the writers of that article, they say they stand by everyword of it and that is was well researched and 100% accurate.

They also were surprised that the mayor came here to pitch this deal and was even MORE surprised their work was call "misinformation."

Seems they had no idea the mayor took a hop down here to help ol Cal out.

Now it appears they are going to investigate who paid for the trip and maybe do a follow up on the article since this happened.

I think the mayor may have some explaining to do when he gets back home.

I will keep you all posted.

Brad

Little Lamb
40181
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Little Lamb 10/05/11 - 11:23 am
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It's good that the Baltimore

It's good that the Baltimore Sun reporters will be checking who paid for the Aberdeen mayor to come down here and speak to the Rotary Club and invited guests Deke Copenhaver and Fred Russell. I hope they don't find that Augusta's city government anteed up any money for the event.

David H
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David H 10/05/11 - 06:19 pm
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@Dipshot It would be nice to

@Dipshot It would be nice to see it put on another ballot box. It would fail but that wouldn't be the end of it. The Mayor has publicly stated in a recorded commission metting that he would find another way to pay for it. He went as far as to coin the term "creative financing". History has shown us without fail that elected leaders will brush aside the voice and will of the people to find any means to push forward with their agendas. Even if that means side stepping the public that elected them.

The issue of the stadium being built with public funds is just one of the problems. When we vote no to a publicly funded stadium downtown that will not be the end of it. Because we have a mayor who has reached his term limit, has nothing to campaign against and he is not afraid to do anything for a stadium downtown even if it means using "creative financing" or crooked accounting to see it built. What's even more dangerous about this entire situation is their is a very real chance that he could pull it off with the current make up of the city commission.

It is important for all of us all no matter our age or where we live, weather we are black or white, rich or poor this will effect us all. We each must join together and and make sure our commission leaders and our mayor here us speak loud and clear and with one voice and demand an end to the debate of a publicly funded downtown stadium. We can't afford it.

Our government forces our public employes to take pay cuts on top of the pathetic salaries and decreased pay they receive. Our heros don't have life saving radios. We still have "needs" in this city. It's time to put the "wants" away and deal with the important things. Our great city is capable of pulling together like we have so many times in the past and work together in tough times and prevail against the odds. When people who want to work have jobs and we return to the early 2000 economical growth then maybe we can sit down and rethink projects like the baseball stadium and rebuilding another arena. But lets not forget that our spending and lack of accountability got us to the place we are today.

Right on
91
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Right on 10/06/11 - 04:18 pm
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I appreciate everyone's

I appreciate everyone's comments about the downtown stadium. This project started under the covers and now is on top of the bed. It is out and a bad idea. I may not be a resident of Rich County but many of my tax dollars go there. The mayor's father-in-law has many properties in downtown. So do I. I am unlike the Mayor and do not have self serving interests. Wake Up Augusta. Time to get out of bed.

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