Don't swing yet at pitch for stadium

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An enthusiastic mayor teams up with a baseball hall-of-famer to convince the city to build a downtown baseball stadium.

The scene is Augusta, Ga. But the scenario has already played out in Aberdeen, Md. And according to reports in The Sun of Baltimore, Aberdeen is taking a financial hit as a result.

An Augusta committee headed up by Mayor Deke Copenhaver recently visited downtown stadiums in Greensboro and Durham, N.C., and members were very impressed with the vitality and atmosphere the facilities create. They are thinking Augusta could do the same thing on riverfront property along Reynolds Street next to the botanical gardens on the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame site.

Certainly the Aberdeen stadium is drawing plenty of folks.

"Every game has been a sellout since the 6,000-seat stadium opened in 2002," says the Sun.

Maybe that's because Baltimore legend Cal Ripken, who also owns the Augusta GreenJackets, is behind it - and has done a ton for promoting baseball and the city of Aberdeen, including holding a baseball academy where youths learn the "Ripken way."

"But even on days like this," the Sun reports, "when the city-owned stadium is packed, Aberdeen loses money.

"The Harford County community owes $6.7 million in stadium-related debt, and millions in interest, on a payment schedule stretching to 2022. The city's stadium fund has posted operating losses that total more than $1 million since 2001, forcing Aberdeen to dip into its treasury."

When the stadium was built, the city's entire budget was $7 million.

Earlier this year, the Aberdeen mayor who inherited the project flirted with trying to sell the stadium, but found it wasn't feasible.

The Sun says Aberdeen officials "never fully made public the extent of Aberdeen's financial strains," but that "their disenchantment was growing behind the scenes."

"Municipalities, especially this one, shouldn't be in this type of business," Aberdeen Mayor S. Fred Simmons said in a 2005 e-mail.

A key problem in Aberdeen is that the city relied on a nearby land development to cover the costs - but the development has yet to materialize.

In addition, says an Aberdeen official who spoke to us off the record, the city was clearly outgunned in negotiations. Ripken "has the best (sports) lawyer ever," the official said. "You would expect him to."

In contrast, city officials didn't realize how much revenue would be available from advertising, and didn't get the city a cut of it.

The Aberdeen official said no one from Augusta has asked them about their experience. "If (Mayor Copenhaver) ignores what's going on with the city of Aberdeen, that would really be a shame," the official said.

Copenhaver said he's been assured by the Ripken folks that the Sun articles were the result of a journalist with an ax to grind. Indeed, Chris Flannery, chief operating officer for Ripken Baseball, called the articles a "hatchet job."

"The city never said those things," he said.

He said Aberdeen is hurting from higher-than-expected infrastructure costs and the yet-to-materialize land development, but that city officials are generally happy with things.

"(The Sun) chose to focus on the bad news rather than the good news," Flannery said. "We're passionate about what we're doing here."

But the Aberdeen official we talked to said officials there were "real pleased with (the Sun reporters') articles," and that the newspaper had done extensive homework.

"I would say don't get into the sports facility business," the Aberdeen official said.

Does this mean Augusta shouldn't? Not at all. What it does mean is that Augusta needs to explore the idea of a riverfront stadium with eyes wide open. And should it come down to negotiating a contract, the city can't rely on its own resources, or even local attorneys; it needs the best in the business representing the city's interests.

The Aberdeen experience is a cautionary tale.

"We didn't have the right expertise," the Aberdeen official said. "And that's why we're in the situation we're in."

If Augusta decides to take the plunge, it's only right that all parties sink or swim together.

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Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 08/05/07 - 05:27 pm
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It is wrong for the

It is wrong for the government to be in the entertainment business. Please fix our streets. Please reduce street violence through effective policing. Please build more jails so we don't have to release violent criminals because of "overcrowding." Please give me back the freedoms you have taken away by your laws that don't involve violence, theft, fraud. Government should provide law enforcement and infrastructure, little else.

LaTwon
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LaTwon 08/05/07 - 05:45 pm
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u r good little lamb.......

u r good little lamb.......

coco rubio
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coco rubio 08/05/07 - 06:10 pm
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yup, that's it....more

yup, that's it....more jails.....a nice high rise jail on riverwalk would be sweet.....no one said i had self serving reasons when i came downtown in the mid 90's when there was not too much happening.....things are now better and i'd like to see it continue...so, now i'm self serving? i'd still like to get some more info on greensboro & durham......email me at coco@soulbar.com if you don't want to post here......thanks!

sjgraci
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sjgraci 08/05/07 - 06:11 pm
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So Michael Ryan "wanted the

So Michael Ryan "wanted the truth". He should have started with the first two misleading sentances of his hit piece. Ripken Stadium is not located in Downtown Aberdeen. It is more than two miles from city center built off of I-95 on vacant land with no surrounding businesses. It would be like Augusta building a stadium off of I-20 and Riverwatch Pkwy and hoping new business would spring up around it. That is not what is being proposed. Furthermore, the city of Aberdeen has less than 15,000 people. It is nowhere near the same size city as Augusta. The only reason minor league baseball is there with a stadium the size they built is because of it being the Ripkins' hometown and Ripken moving the team there in 2002. The Iron Birds also play "short season" A ball. They play 80 games compared to Augusta's 140. That's 30 less home games a season. If the Aberdeen city "officials" were so disillusioned with their stadium, would they so proudly display a photo of it on their city's website homepage and elsewhere? A fair comparisson of the two teams and cities? Hardly. But not a surprise coming from Ryan and Morris.

scoobydostwin
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scoobydostwin 08/05/07 - 06:38 pm
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Saying Aberdeen has only

Saying Aberdeen has only 15000 people is very misleading. If you remember, before consolidation Augusta had about 35000 people. The metropolitan area around Aberdeen is over 400000 people. Sigraci is right, the stadium is some distance from downtown Aberdeen and to compare the two situations is like apples and oranges.

owensjef
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owensjef 08/05/07 - 06:41 pm
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Oh boy

Oh boy

sawrigh2
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sawrigh2 08/05/07 - 09:01 pm
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It has been citied by several

It has been citied by several sources across baseball that the city of Aberdeen is losing money on the stadium. Ripken has enough money to build it himself. I'd rather see the city save money and spend it on things we need. Also how long would the city sit on the splost money before they would construct it. Look at the other unspent splost money. I'm tired of paying more for no progress.

HillGuy
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HillGuy 08/05/07 - 09:46 pm
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Aberdeen, MD is more

Aberdeen, MD is more comparable to Cartersville, GA.. Both have populations around 16,000 and are about 36 miles from a major metropolitan area... Carterville being near Atlanta and Aberdeen being near Baltimore... but Baltimore and Atlanta both have major league baseball teams. Cartersville does not have a minor league team? Why? Well first off the it's only about 36 miles from Atlanta.... where you can see The Braves play.. and the city is simply not a big enough market on its own for a major league team. Same with Aberdeen.. the fact that it has a minor league team is an anomoly.. it's too close too Baltimore and isn't larger enough on its own to support a separate minor league team. And as someone pointed out... their team plays about half of the games the Greenjackets play. The city only has a team because it happens to be Cal Ripken's hometown...if it were not for this, a city like Aberdeen would never have a minor league team and certainly not a stadium the size that it has. Augusta however is a separate, self contained metropolitan area of over half a million people. Comparing it to Aberdeen is like comparing apples to oranges.

justus4
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justus4 08/05/07 - 11:57 pm
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A good article with clear
Unpublished

A good article with clear warnings. Stupid people with disregard truth, because they want what they want. But those who want a stadium are selling their kids future. It will not operate as promised and the cost will soar.

scoobydostwin
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scoobydostwin 08/06/07 - 08:59 am
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Last post, The city of

Last post, The city of Augusta under its present charter does not have the ability to operate a baseball stadium. Deke is good man but is just a figurehead in our political structure.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 08/06/07 - 09:08 am
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The original model of

The original model of capitalism was that an entrepeneur would gather capital (his own, or from loans, or from selling equities) and start his business, and hope for a reward if he met the expectations of customers. But now these people in the entertainment business have become leeches, insisting that governments provide venues for their entertainment offerings. These sports teams refuse to build their stadiums. Do you think the taxpayers of New York built Yankee Stadium? It would have seemed laughable to them in the 1920s. I encourage Augustans to rise up in protest whenever the idea of taxpayers building a baseball stadium comes up.

coco rubio
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coco rubio 08/06/07 - 09:17 am
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or you can use the brooklyn

or you can use the brooklyn dodgers who had to leave brooklyn and left to go to los angeles (whose local gov't gave them the land and a good deal to move west)......our local gov't can make or break this stadium deal.....and i still think it's worth making it happen........and i'm sure there are better things to protest......but, rise up if you need to.....just make sure all the protesters are from augusta/richmond county, ok?

WHEUBANKS
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WHEUBANKS 08/06/07 - 12:16 pm
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They did move west and built

They did move west and built their own ballpark. Give Cal some land and let him build a stadium.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 08/06/07 - 12:56 pm
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Remember if the taxpayers

Remember if the taxpayers build a stadium, then the taxpayers will be on the hook for the operating expenses. The arrangement with the Civic Center is terrible, and now the government is getting ready to enter an "operations" agreement for the new convention center in which hundreds of thousands of dollars a year of taxpayers' money will be earmarked for the operating losses of the convention center. A baseball stadium will likely end up with the same kind of losing arrangement. And how many games do the GreenJackets actually play at home? Somewhere around 50 or so? That's a lot of days where the stadium sits empty.

coco rubio
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coco rubio 08/06/07 - 01:48 pm
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i'd prefer to keep them in

i'd prefer to keep them in brooklyn, er uh, i mean augusta.......and the idea would be to use this stadium for other functions besides just home baseball games......remember the bob dylan concert? but, it's cool....i'm not here to fight.....just want to see stuff happen.....and yeah, i would flatten the current civic center and build a brand new facility there too....and a performing arts center would be worth exploring......maybe by renovating the miller theatre?

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 08/06/07 - 02:02 pm
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I would be delighted and so

I would be delighted and so proud of you if you would build a civic center / performance arts center. That's the way America should work. An entrepeneur or a corporation or a consortium of individuals and companies investing their capital in anticipation of future profits. But you and others are trying to take MY capital by force to build these entertainment venues.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 08/06/07 - 02:04 pm
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And, yes, they have had

And, yes, they have had several concerts at the existing baseball stadium and they have been well attended. The point is that there indeed IS an EXISTING baseball stadium in Augusta, and the GreenJackets should work at keeping it in good condition. Of course, if Cal Ripoff can get investors to build a downtown stadium with private capital, more power to him. The city government should support such an effort by making sure the planning and zoning bureaucrats don't hold up the show and get out of the way.

coco rubio
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coco rubio 08/06/07 - 03:50 pm
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the point is to have the

the point is to have the stadium in an area that would..... 1) attract more people to go to the ballgames by being in a highly visable urban location, instead of hidden away next to the pond & housing complex 2) provide a boost to our downtown area that is in the process of growth & needs things like this to happen in order to continue growing..........the city can let this chance go away or it can try to capitalize on it.......and i'd much rather spend my taxes to fund these types of projects.....along with more going to schools and educational programs.........especially when you think about how much we waste.........and like i said in the beginning....i think cal & deke will work out a good deal......why not hear it out.....before shooting it down?

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 08/06/07 - 03:59 pm
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The only good deal is one

The only good deal is one that involves a free exchange of goods and services between two or more parties that have agreed to the exchange voluntarily. A deal that takes from some by force (taxes) to enrich others is never a good deal. If I voluntarily come to the Soul Bar and exchange my earned income for your beer, we have both been satisfied because the exchange is mutually agreed on. Taxing all citizens for the entertainment of a few cannot be morally justified.

coco rubio
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coco rubio 08/06/07 - 04:07 pm
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well, i guess we'll just have

well, i guess we'll just have to wait and see, huh? because when it comes up for a vote....we'll see what the majority wants......& that's the american way, right? (just like baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie) no moral justification needed, thanks.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 08/06/07 - 10:18 pm
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Oh no! Say it ain't so, Joe!

Oh no! Say it ain't so, Joe! Channel 6 news tonight said the drag strip is rising from the grave, like the Night of the Living Dead. Some "businessman" has a "deal" for city taxpayers. He proposes to buy some land along Hephzibah-McBean Road for a drag strip. The only catch is that city taxpayers must BUILD the drag strip, bleachers, lighting, roadway, water and sewer connections, etc., etc., etc. What a deal ! ! ! In the last SPLOST we taxpayers agreed to tax ourselves for five years to build a courthouse, a library, and a convention center. We would be biting off too much to add a baseball stadium and a drag strip to the mix. My assessment for my house has gone up considerably, and the millage rate come this October will be higher than last year. Please ! ! ! Enough is enough. No city-financed baseball stadium downtown and no drag strip along Brier Creek!

sawrigh2
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sawrigh2 08/07/07 - 06:17 am
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If they want to build the

If they want to build the stadium and drag strip, let them borrow money from the bank and build it and pay back the loans just like the rest of us have to do.

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