Ripken says new stadium could revitalize Augusta

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Cal Ripken Jr. settled into his seat in the right-field corner of Lake Olmstead Stadium on Tuesday night, finally able to sit back and watch some baseball.

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GreenJackets fan Michael Morgensen holds a portrait of Mr. Ripken he hoped to get signed.  Chris Thelen/Staff
Chris Thelen/Staff
GreenJackets fan Michael Morgensen holds a portrait of Mr. Ripken he hoped to get signed.

Looking over the Augusta GreenJackets minor league baseball team - which his company, Ripken Baseball, owns - and a ballpark full of fans, the future Hall of Famer wrapped up a long and busy day in Augusta.

"I wish I could get here more often, but it has been busy, especially being the Hall of Fame year," Mr. Ripken said. "So whenever I get the chance to come, I thoroughly enjoy it. We kind of had to cram as much into this one day as possible."

Mr. Ripken met with city and state leaders to discuss the proposed riverfront stadium downtown before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the GreenJackets' game against the Asheville Tourists.

Mayor Deke Copenhaver, Gov. Sonny Perdue and the Downtown Stadium Exploratory Committee welcomed the 19-time All-Star. The governor's and Mr. Ripken's schedules coincidentally put them in Augusta on the same day.

"We had a great meeting earlier to discuss the stadium. To have them here, all of us meeting face to face, was a tremendous help," Mr. Copenhaver said. "We were able to share our vision, and I think getting them together got everybody excited about it. The governor is excited, I'm excited and I hope the whole community is excited."

Mr. Ripken spoke for the first time in person about the possibility of a $20 million park near the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame Botanical Gardens.

"I'm charged about it because I think it's a wonderful project. It's a process, but things are coming together nicely," Mr. Ripken said. "We talked about its potential and explained our vision. I thought it went very well, and I'm optimistic things are moving along."

Ripken Baseball and Mr. Copenhaver worked together on the stadium project and formed the exploratory committee in April.

"I'd be tickled for the entire city of Augusta if it had a new stadium downtown," Mr. Ripken said. "It would be more than just a stadium. It would be an economic engine. I'd love to see downtown Augusta revitalized, to see the kind of energy it could bring downtown like some other cities are experiencing.

"It's not just about baseball, it's more about having a community to be proud of," he added. "We've explained that we're not here short term. We're in it for the long haul."

Mr. Ripken expressed his happiness about the box office rejuvenation of the GreenJackets since Ripken Baseball took over in 2005, in addition to his upcoming induction into the Hall of Fame.

Mr. Ripken and Tony Gwynn will be inducted into the hall July 29 in Cooperstown, N.Y. They were elected in January.

"I feel like one of the lucky ones for being able to do what I've done," Mr. Ripken said. "And that is the culmination and the celebration. It makes me feel really good because I feel like I've really added something to the game. Hopefully, I made the game a little bit better than it was before."

Reach Steve Sanders at (706) 823-3216 or steven.l.sanders@augustachronicle.com.

BACKGROUND: On April 10, Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver and Bill Ripken, of the Ripken Baseball Group, announced that a Downtown Stadium Exploratory Committee would study the feasibility of a ballpark on the Savannah River between 11th and 13th streets in downtown Augusta.




DEVELOPMENTS

:

- On May 14, members of the committee visited Greenville, S.C., to tour the city's new ballpark, West End Field.


- On Tuesday, Cal Ripken Jr. met with Mr. Copenhaver, Gov. Sonny Perdue and members of the exploratory committee.




WHAT MR. RIPKEN IS SAYING: "I'd love to see downtown Augusta revitalized, to see the kind of energy it could bring downtown like some other cities are experiencing."

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juliebutler
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juliebutler 06/13/07 - 07:23 am
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This is another reckless idea

This is another reckless idea that Augusta has ever had. I guess we can just add it to the list. We have a stadium that is sufficient. If you think "build it they will come", you are dumb. Just one more stink Augusta will have to talk about.

WhiskyDick
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WhiskyDick 06/13/07 - 07:30 am
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I think Marion Williams

I think Marion Williams should build his drag strip at the Hall of Fame.

Da Voice Inside Your Head
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Da Voice Inside Your Head 06/13/07 - 07:45 am
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It's okay to want to help

It's okay to want to help rebuild downtown but** 1) There is no parking! 2.) No access to major roads and interstates. 3.) People don't want to go downtown. The perfect place to build a new ballfield( If we really need a new one?) is at Daniel Field. The money losing, sweetheart deal for Augusta Avation, operations can be moved to under used Bush Field.The time has come to get rid of all these money losers and use the assets for something worth while.They tried the "Build it and they will come idea with the Civic Center. See how well that worked out. I fear that common sense will not break out and we'll have one money loser replacing another.If Carl Ripken thinks it such a great idea, let him pony up the jack.

jleyes
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jleyes 06/13/07 - 07:50 am
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PLAYBALL!! This is just what

PLAYBALL!! This is just what Augusta needs. Can't wait until Opening Day 2010.

jackfruitpaper833
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jackfruitpaper833 06/13/07 - 07:50 am
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This will be a waste of

This will be a waste of money, no one really comes to those games, it's perfect where it is.

NEone
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NEone 06/13/07 - 07:58 am
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jackfruit: I got involved in

jackfruit: I got involved in Greenjackets BB this year and am having a blast. It's good, clean, American fun. If you aren't involved, as you must be since "no one really comes to those games", then how would you know the stadium is "perfect where it is"? Da Voice: I believe the planning people are looking at the legitimate issues you raised--parking and access. Your point #3 is lame. The rationale of revitalization is to bring the people BACK, give them a reason to go downtown, not wait for the people to go first then build a stadium.

laurak
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laurak 06/13/07 - 08:22 am
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Last week someone suggested

Last week someone suggested placing a good concert hall at the old Golf and Gardens. I also remember that the Morris Museum plans to build its permanent home down there. If those could go in the Gardens area, along with parking, it would be full and a wonderful cultural center.
The current ballpark pn Milledge Rd. is new, and seldom full for games. Does it need replacing?

WHEUBANKS
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WHEUBANKS 06/13/07 - 08:44 am
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Building a stadium downtown

Building a stadium downtown on the river was a great idea. It did not happen for whatever reason. Building on the lake was also a great idea and it did happen.
Do the “leaders” in Augusta really believe that the people of Augusta want to spend 16 to 20 Million dollars to duplicate a stadium just to move it a mile or so closer to downtown.

Da Voice, you could not be more correct about Daniel Field.

Philo-Publis
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Philo-Publis 06/13/07 - 08:44 am
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I for one am getting sick and

I for one am getting sick and tired of the uneducated neysayers on this issue! Look, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but that attitude is what has put Augusta 20 years behind the rest of the world already! Anyone who has ever been part of a successful business knows that you must spend money to make money. Aren't you people getting tired of looking at a run down, slummy downtown? Wouldn't you like to start attracting other businesses and people to Augusta? ** The mayor and planning council are well aware of the fact that nobody goes downtown... Thats why they want to continue to revitalize the city! There's a reason the JB Arena doesn't attract any people downtown. THEY DON'T HAVE ANYTHING THERE!!! It's a poorly run facility! Again, instead of having the negative "We can't do this" attitude, lets work together and begin rebuilding this city! I'm ready to see Augusta change for the good! If you don't like baseball, then stay at home. But as for myself and the rest of the city, $20 million is a very SMALL PRICE to pay to begin revitalizing the city.

I'm ready to say that I am proud to live in Augusta... are you?

Philo-Publis
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Philo-Publis 06/13/07 - 09:08 am
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[quote

[quote jackfruitpaper833]
This will be a waste of money, no one really comes to those games[/quote]

Hmm, it was sold out last night... not bad for a Tuesday...

WHEUBANKS
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WHEUBANKS 06/13/07 - 09:10 am
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The JB Arena may be poorly

The JB Arena may be poorly run but people do go there when there are acts that they want to see. If you don't mind spending our $20 million to BEGIN this revitalization. How much are you willing to spend in total. Is there a limit you have in mind?

OpenMinded
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OpenMinded 06/13/07 - 09:26 am
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This will be great for

This will be great for Augusta! It won't be all about baseball downtown, it will be about the experience of a game on the river, with "after-partying" going on in the downtown area or some form of tailgating/picnicking going on before the games. The Greenjackets have already seen an increase in attendance since Ripken got involved, and with a stadium downtown, it would bring people like myself out who don't typically attend a baseball game but would enjoy the overall downtown experience. Tying the Gardens in only makes it that much more wonderfully aesthetic. And for the uninformed who wonder about parking, downtown can accommodate games. Border Bash had 20,000 and parking was sufficient. These games are projected to bring in fewer than 10,000. If 20,000 can find parking downtown, fewer than 10,000 surely can. When this park finally happens, sign me up- I'll be at the games and will spend my money downtown afterward. This is the start of something GREAT for downtown. Thank you Deke and Cal!

GuyIncognito
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GuyIncognito 06/13/07 - 09:33 am
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Lets put it right next to the

Lets put it right next to the bankrupt Georgia Golf Gardens, that way we can keep the places no one goes together.

bone
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bone 06/13/07 - 09:34 am
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My parents live in

My parents live in Montgomery, AL. There was tremendous uproar when the city decided to build a stadium on the river - everyone believed that the parking, access, and sketchy location would be a money pit. Lo and behold, the community supports the stadium and their downtown is experiencing a bit of a resurgence. In Augusta, the parking dilemma isn't a huge problem: there are plenty of side streets and lots of room to pave over the Hall of Fame. Access to downtown isn't awful, either: with Riverwatch, Gordon Hwy, and Washington Rd dumping directly into downtown, people can get there. Finally, the number of restaurants downtown will be more than adequate to draw people to games. The current location is near NOTHING - the ONLY reason to go there is for a game. Downtown offers the Riverwalk, eateries, and the Commons area for before/after activities. This idea is a WINNER - get behind it, Augusta, and we'll really see something good happen downtown.

Carleton Duvall
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Carleton Duvall 06/13/07 - 09:39 am
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Well said, Bone. This is an

Well said, Bone. This is an excellent example of success with a downtown stadium. Before the group that is doing the exploratory work makes a recommendation I hope they will visit Tampa where I understand the results were not as good.

Carleton Duvall
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Carleton Duvall 06/13/07 - 09:43 am
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Incidentally, I am neither

Incidentally, I am neither for or against the idea. I just want the exploration work to be complete. An emotional decision could be expensive.

greenhulk1980
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greenhulk1980 06/13/07 - 09:45 am
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So what exactly would be done

So what exactly would be done with the old Stadium? Thats always a fun question to ask. Maybe they could build a little more worthless low income housing like the neighbors up the street. I do like the idea of it all but I also llike the idea of me being a millionaire and that idea is still being worked on.

greenhulk1980
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greenhulk1980 06/13/07 - 09:45 am
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So what exactly would be done

So what exactly would be done with the old Stadium? Thats always a fun question to ask. Maybe they could build a little more worthless low income housing like the neighbors up the street. I do like the idea of it all but I also llike the idea of me being a millionaire and that idea is still being worked on.

Little Lamb
46059
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Little Lamb 06/13/07 - 09:51 am
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I vote to keep minor league

I vote to keep minor league baseball in the current stadium and have the team's owners improve it as they see fit. The downtown area should be more for projects that use the little remaining land space 365 days a year (like housing, shops, other business, etc.).

bowler
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bowler 06/13/07 - 10:37 am
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i wish they'd build in

i wish they'd build in grovetown so i could walk to Thirsty Thursdays

nyquil
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nyquil 06/13/07 - 10:38 am
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Bone-My parents live in

Bone-My parents live in Montgomery, AL. There was tremendous uproar when the city decided to build a stadium on the river
--------------------------------------------------------------------

At least our team isn't called the "Biscuits".

jleyes
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jleyes 06/13/07 - 10:51 am
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jeremychughes GETS IT, as do

jeremychughes GETS IT, as do many others. In order for the city to have a vibrant city center it desperately needs a catalyst. The ballpark with 70+ baseball games and hundreds of other non-baseball programming events will draws 300-500K people to downtown that wouldn't be coming otherwise. Not just for a year but yearly. They said it wouldn't work in Dayton, OH, Greensboro, NC, Greenville, SC, Montgomery, AL, Memphis, TN, Chattanooga, TN etc...and the nay-sayers were proven wrong time after time after time. This ballpark is the first key componet to magnetizing downtown, it will bring thousands of families and young people for shopping and entertainment. Have some vision and see that doing nothing is plain luanacy and building another condo development and shopping without a magnet will achieve nothing more then what you see now. BASEBALL BELONGS in the DOWNTOWN not the outskirts. If you think Lake Olmstead is a fabulous ballpark then you clearly don't travel much to see what cities in and around our size are developing with their vision.

sjgraci
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sjgraci 06/13/07 - 11:05 am
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Build it Downtown. The heart

Build it Downtown. The heart and soul of any city including Augusta is the best place for a stadium. It should have been built there 12 years ago and not where it currently is. Augusta's very own "mistake at the lake", a boring site with no existing restaurants, shopping, or pedestrian attractions. The new site offers easy access off River Watch Parkway, Gordon Hwy/Aiken August Hwy, Washington Rd, Walton Way, Wrightsboro Rd, and GA Ave. There is plenty of parking downtown near the future stadium. Walk two blocks you lazy out of shape bums. Most rational people are not afraid to go downtown as is evident in all of the restaurants, bars, and theatres/venues on any given night. The irrational ones that think it is not safe are living in the past. Stay at home like you do anyway. The new stadium can and should be used for concert events like last summer's Bob Dylan show- talk about a parking and traffic/access problem. Anyone been to Jacob's Field, Comerica Park, Camden Yards, PNC Park, Great American Park, Coors Field, Busch Stadium, or AT&T Park? All are beautiful downtown locations that have played vital rolls in the revitaliztion of their cities. The same can and will happen here.

GuyIncognito
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GuyIncognito 06/13/07 - 11:23 am
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Sjgraci, cite to some minor

Sjgraci, cite to some minor league parks - all those are MLB parks in big cities. The Greenjackets don't have the draw that the Orioles, the Giants, or even, the Cleveland Indians have. If the city can guarantee an increased police presence on game days further out than the current one block radius they have for events, the safety concerns might be addressed.

Has anyone thought of adding restaurants or shopping or anything besides homes to the area around the current stadium?

jleyes
24
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jleyes 06/13/07 - 11:40 am
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GuyInCognito - Dayton, Oh,

GuyInCognito - Dayton, Oh, Akron, OH, Toledo, OH, Greensboro, NC, Greenville, SC, Durham, NC, Memphis, TN, Sacramento, CA, Norfolk, VA, Jacksonville, FL, Chatanooga, TN just to name some.

There has never been a downtown ballpark built where someone didn't speak out on parking concerns and safety. Let's give Ripken and the City the benefit of the doubt here for just a moment and consider that if those were issues that couldn't be solved we wouldn't be having this discussion. It's amazing that people will traverse a 200 yard parking lot to shop at Target or Wal Mart or from one department store to another at Augusta mall it's not a problem but if you have to walk the same distance or less in the downtown you want to complain. If downtown can handle Borderbash at that site - a GreenJacket game is going to be a walk in the park -- or should I say a walk in the "Golf & Gardens".

Don Rico
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Don Rico 06/13/07 - 11:41 am
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Well if the folks in Augusta

Well if the folks in Augusta dont want it, they could always put it in Columbia County. No parking or crime problems here.

kokousa
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kokousa 06/13/07 - 11:43 am
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IF YOU BUILD IT THEY WANT

IF YOU BUILD IT THEY WANT COME. Unfortunate the people of this area don't believe in supporting anything. The best thing that could happen to Augusta is to take a BULLDOZIER to it and level it out. Problem SOLVED.

OMallen
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OMallen 06/13/07 - 12:45 pm
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Don Rico: Amen. Columbia

Don Rico: Amen. Columbia County is the place to be!!!!

keysplease
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keysplease 06/13/07 - 12:55 pm
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This discussion is a perfect

This discussion is a perfect example of why Augusta isn't growing. Most of you yahoos (I can say that because I'm a native Augustan and with the exception of about 12 years, I've lived here most of my life) apparently haven't ventured past the borders of Augusta since 1970. When I travel and see what other cities are doing, I am reminded that Augusta is truly 20 years behind the rest of the country. Those that say no one goes to the games, obviously haven't gone since the days of the old Augusta Braves in the '80s. The first owners of the Greenjackets did a lot of work on the stadium and really helped to revitalize it. When Ripken and Co. took over the Greenjackets, they completely renovated the stadium and put a lot of money behind making the best out of the stadium they were given. I think they have proven that they know how to make baseball work in this city, have put money into it, and now have sold out games most of the year. Moving the stadium downtown (as long as Billy Morris is not involved) would be a great thing. The Golf HOF was never going to get off the ground without the Augusta National anyway, so this would be a great use of the space.

keysplease
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keysplease 06/13/07 - 01:04 pm
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That part of downtown near

That part of downtown near the lake looks pretty safe right now -- but once the renovations are complete on the housing project down there, you'll see a major difference in the culture there. As suggested in another discussion, let Lake Olmstead stadium be used for college games in the area. None of the area college teams have a decent field to play on currently. As for the JBA, I remember when the lame brained County Commission decided that a 12,000 seat arena was unnecessary -- 8000 would be sufficient. I was still in high school then, but I remember saying to myself that that was the stupidest idea ever and that we were going to regret it one day. Go to the Augusta Chronicle archives and see for yourself. If we keep doing things the same way, we will continue to get the same results.

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