Who will step up to the plate?

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A downtown baseball stadium is the most ambitious venture of Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver's political career, but two years into discussions, he still lacks specifics on how it will happen.

  Nate Owens/Staff
Nate Owens/Staff

He and baseball Hall-of-Famer Cal Ripken Jr., have big plans for a ballpark along the Savannah River, conceived as an economic boon for downtown and a step up for the Augusta GreenJackets, owned by Ripken Baseball.

Conceptual drawings show an outfield backing up to the river, multilevel office and condo buildings and a steamboat-shaped restaurant at the levee level. The stadium was incorporated into Augusta Tomorrow's downtown master plan. Private money paid for a feasibility study that laid out the stadium's $31.8 million construction cost -- $38.9 million including infrastructure improvements -- and 5,500-seat capacity.

What hasn't been laid out is how much taxpayers will have to pay. Mr. Copenhaver says the public's portion of the public-private partnership could involve bonds issued through the city's new tax allocation district, and his goal is for the city "to have as little exposure as possible."

As for how much is a little, Mr. Copenhaver says he doesn't know yet, nor will he identify what proportion of the stadium's cost he would consider too much for the city to bear.

"I could not say," he said. "This is why I need finance people putting the deal together."

The lack of details has several Augusta commissioners unnerved. Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue might be on board, saying he'll agree to transfer the 17-acre Augusta Golf and Gardens property from the state to the city so long as the stadium gets built on it, but without the support of commissioners the project isn't going anywhere.

Six votes would be needed to take any action -- whether it's to accept the land under the governor's conditions or to issue bonds. Had it been put to the commission last week, the project would have undoubtedly sank.

Of the 10 commissioners, six -- Betty Beard, Corey Johnson, Joe Bowles, Calvin Holland, Jimmy Smith and Don Grantham -- say they're against building a stadium right now. Jerry Brigham says he's undecided, but leaning against it.

"He needs to come up with something a little more concrete than what he's been talking about for the last year and a half," Mr. Grantham said of the mayor. "I just don't think we need to head in this direction until we know more about it."

Mr. Johnson said voting in favor of a $32 million stadium during this dismal economic climate "would be suicide to my career.

"That would be a slap in the face to the people," he said. "I'm not saying it's not a good idea for the future. I'm just saying it's not a good idea right now."

THE CITY has more time to review the issue, thanks to a misunderstanding about the process of transferring state-owned land. After an April 16 conference call during which the governor said he'll help put the land under city ownership, Mr. Copenhaver and Mr. Ripken held a news conference at Lake Olmstead Stadium saying they planned to break ground on a downtown stadium by fall.

But that's impossible, according to the State Properties Commission, because the land transfer would have to be approved by the Legislature, and the General Assembly is not scheduled to meet again until January. Were such a resolution passed, the city wouldn't take ownership until summer 2010, properties commission Deputy Executive Director Rod Bowlden estimated.

The holdup is just fine, said Mr. Copenhaver, who was taken aback by the negative reaction to his announcement with Mr. Ripken.

"All we're talking about is a concept," he said. "Until you have a package together, you really have nothing to say yea or nay about."

Several commissioners said they thought the stadium was on hold because of the economy and didn't appreciate finding out from the news media that it was being fast-tracked. Mr. Copenhaver said he didn't mean to blindside anyone, but then it's not as if he just sprang the idea on the city this month.

In 2007, a 28-member exploratory committee was formed. The feasibility study by Rosser International predicted the stadium would draw more than 350,000 patrons per year downtown.

Last year the properties commission put out a request for proposals on other uses for the Golf and Gardens property. Other than the stadium idea submitted by the city, Ripken Baseball and developer Jacoby Group, the only other proposals were a job training center by Goodwill Industries and an assisted-living complex.

"If somebody had a better idea moving forward, I was open to all ideas," Mr. Copenhaver said.

With a governor who likes the project and is agreeable to a handover, Mr. Copenhaver said he's concerned that if nothing gets done before Mr. Perdue leaves office at the end of 2010, his successor might not be so amenable. Then Augusta would go on having a large tract of riverfront property growing weeds and generating no taxes, he said.

IF THE MAYOR doesn't have all the answers about financing, part of it has to do with so many aspects of the land transfer still being up in the air. It's unknown whether the city would have to pay the state for the property. The state has about $2.8 million in bonded indebtedness tied up in it, and how that would be handled has not been discussed.

Mr. Copenhaver said the first thing he'll ask the commission to do is direct the finance department and City Administrator Fred Russell to come up with a financing structure showing how the public-private partnership could be split. At least two commissioners -- Mr. Grantham and Mr. Holland -- said they won't even vote for that.

Both the feasibility study and documents submitted to the state last year said the private sector would pay for the non-baseball aspects of the overall mixed-use development, such as the office building, apartments, condos, a parking deck and hotel, which aren't included in the $38.9 million price. The private sector would also pay for ongoing maintenance of the facilities, the documents say.

Both Mr. Copenhaver and Ripken Baseball CEO Chris Flannery said, however, that doesn't mean the city would fund the stadium construction alone.

"At the end of the day, I have to feel that it's beneficial to the city," Mr. Copenhaver said. "There are models where these deals have been put together with minimal risk to the taxpayers. That's the kind of deal I'm looking for."

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

Comments (24) Add comment
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Brad Owens
4097
Points
Brad Owens 04/26/09 - 02:15 am
0
0
Details...that is where the

Details...that is where the devil is huh? The Mayor is feeling the heat of being in a position where he has no vote and no control over the money due to a lack of a vote. I think its funny that Grantham, Smith, and Bowels are not supporting the Mayor on this. Grantham says he needs more information. You mean the PAID study did NOT work out the DETAILS? Commissioner Johnson is worried about his political 'career' (eyes rolling), I think the voters would not 'run you out of town on a rail' if you voted for this one Corley. What a cop-out. Granthan needs more information huh? Maybe he can hold a secret meeting in his office on a holiday with all the 'players' to get details worked out. Then he can deny he learned anything from it (or even participated) later once the stadium is built. There is MORE to this than has been put out there. I see the Stadium being in a fight for funds from the James Brown Arena when the bonds are up. Add that to the drama of TEE Center and all the motel-hotel tax floating around out there and we have some powerful players moving some chess pieces around the board very quietly (or with cover like the Authority antics being over blown and reported).

Craig Spinks
817
Points
Craig Spinks 04/26/09 - 04:10 am
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Priorities.

Priorities.

ColCo
544
Points
ColCo 04/26/09 - 06:44 am
0
0
Ready...Fire...Aim. Typical.

Ready...Fire...Aim. Typical.

createyourfuture
68
Points
createyourfuture 04/26/09 - 07:25 am
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All you have to do is look at

All you have to do is look at what other cities have done with their downtown districts: Greenville, Atlanta, Grand Rapids. Those cities are thriving and people are moving there who enjoy that atmosphere. Augusta is dormant in the last century as politicians bicker about losing their careers. Well, sometimes that happens if you have to do the right thing.
Developing downtown then developing solid neighborhoods will make this city thrive. All we seem to have now, save Summerville, is strip malls and subdivisions.
Augusta is reminiscent of the third slave who dug in the earth and hid his lord's money. Until this do nothing attitude changes, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Brad Owens
4097
Points
Brad Owens 04/26/09 - 08:10 am
0
0
WAKE UP PEOPLE! everyone knew

WAKE UP PEOPLE! everyone knew that the Mayor was working on this since WAY before I moved to Africa well over two years ago. Its a great idea and would help shift control of the River Front away from certain people. Jimmy Smith is against it because Grantham TOLD him he was, but supports a three million dollar pond at the old Regency Mall (must be all those details about how a 3mil pond will be a 'boon' to THAT area huh?). The Mayor is right and this is a great idea. I wish we could 'reprogram' the money from TEE Center, the Mini Theater, the DDA, and all those other groups that propose those useless studies to pay for something great like the stadium. This story is meant to make the Mayor look like a powerless figure head who over stepped his authority by gong around the Commission on this land issue with the Governor. Plus, the $ figure we will be asked to support must be REALLY high for him to not ever want to say it in public huh? Advice to Deke; ALWAYS know more about your proposal than your opponents do and be prepared to answer any and all questions with VERY simple answers or the Commission won't understand it as a group. I wish you well with this Deke, it's a great idea.

Brad Owens
4097
Points
Brad Owens 04/26/09 - 08:16 am
0
0
ColCo, sorry that we didn't

ColCo, sorry that we didn't include a strip mall food court and black-top parking lot so you would feel more at home...

ColCo
544
Points
ColCo 04/26/09 - 08:40 am
0
0
Brad, I get my fill of that

Brad, I get my fill of that on a daily basis when I drive through Richmond County. Anyone with any knowledge of how the property commission operates knows that it would take legislative action to transfer the property to the city. With the Mayor's Atlanta connections, I'm surprised he didn't know it. I agree, it's a great idea, but know the project and how you are going to get it done before you go public, otherwise people you depend on for help will be against you.

Brad Owens
4097
Points
Brad Owens 04/26/09 - 09:00 am
0
0
Yep, I agree with you 100%.

Yep, I agree with you 100%. That is what I had to do anytime I needed something through the commission. I had to be sure it was VERY simple and that I was ready to answer every possible 'devil's detail advocate' questions that they could ask. Not to mention it takes a lot of actual lobbying and getting the facts in front of the folks with votes to make things happen. Do you relly think a study was conducted and no $$$ were attached to the project? Come on Deke, FIGHT! Fight them! Take your case to the people and get those phones ringing at Commissioner's homes and offices. While you are at it, have Mr. Morris back off the TEE Center getting the bond funds from the James Brown Arena so they can be used by you for this. And then you will need to create a seperate Sports Authority appointed by the commission, delegation, and the private stake holders (they can elect them from bond holders). Either way, have the answers for at least the most obvious question, 'How much will it cost us?'

Tell it like it is
35
Points
Tell it like it is 04/26/09 - 09:17 am
0
0
Deke stepped up to the plate

Deke stepped up to the plate and struck out. Games over unless the people get to vote on it.

jgdarling
3
Points
jgdarling 04/26/09 - 09:24 am
0
0
Mayor's failure to understand

Mayor's failure to understand property transfer requirements shows this project to be very poorly thought thru.

hurlyburly11
0
Points
hurlyburly11 04/26/09 - 09:36 am
0
0
Until the Charter is changed

Until the Charter is changed the Mayor of Augusta will always be stymied with theses types of projects......he has no vote and thus no power and it was set up that way on purpose...The stadium sounds like a great and wonderful idea for the progression of Augusta...and that is why it will go no where...sad but true..the property will end up housing another building committed to give away programs and Government involved projects...bloated with Govt, employees.

Brad Owens
4097
Points
Brad Owens 04/26/09 - 09:37 am
0
0
Know the facts and be

Know the facts and be prepared to convince people with those facts.

mdbrave
5
Points
mdbrave 04/26/09 - 09:53 am
0
0
Well, we know how the AC

Well, we know how the AC feels about the stadium....all the articles printed in the past week with a negative slant...folks in the AC offices are maybe a little jealous about the ballpark competing with the TEE, eh? The bottom line is that the downtown stadium is a move in the right direction. As I have said before on this site, the current stadium is beautiful but in a poor location. You do not put an object for use/display in a place where no one can easily access/see it. The Lake Olmstead site is at the end of a narrow, two lane road with NO surrounding real estate to build stores, restaurants, etc. Heaton built the stadium originally on the site of a little league field in 1987-88 as a last minute measure to draw the team here from Macon (I believe). The ownership prior to Cal then did a good job of remodeling it, but you can't put lipstick on a pig and make it a supermodel. The Lake Olmstead site is dead. Start over. Move downtown!

DowntownJaguar
111
Points
DowntownJaguar 04/26/09 - 10:01 am
0
0
The Section 8 housing nearby

The Section 8 housing nearby doesn't help either, IMO.

ITDoc
1
Points
ITDoc 04/26/09 - 10:28 am
0
0
Know the details before

Know the details before proceeding? Congress and Obobblehead certainly don't practice these basic business practices, why condemn Deke for following their example?

sjgraci
2
Points
sjgraci 04/26/09 - 12:05 pm
0
0
Build It Dowbtown!

Build It Dowbtown!

FedupwithAUG
0
Points
FedupwithAUG 04/26/09 - 12:35 pm
0
0
What a waste of prime

What a waste of prime realestate and taxpayer money.

The Knave
24
Points
The Knave 04/26/09 - 12:36 pm
0
0
I'll bet that if it was Ole

I'll bet that if it was Ole Deke's money was on the line, he would have command of all the details. But, hey, it's only tax dollars at stake (you know, play money) so hand-waving and generalities are all that's required. Furthermore, the more obscure and nebulous are the process and arrangements, the more Ripkin benefits, since Ripkin is shrewd and will be certain that the deal is structured in his favor. Ripkin is dealing with a bunch of hayseeds, he knows it, and he will take advantage of it.

SlapShot2
0
Points
SlapShot2 04/26/09 - 01:22 pm
0
0
FEDUPWITHAUG I have a

FEDUPWITHAUG I have a question for you. What would you suggest goes on that property? The assisted living and training center didnt sound that great nor could they produce tax reveune that a multi-purpose facility could.

Hey THE KNAVE, since you mention details in your post...it spelled Ripken. Nice job.

Brad Owens
4097
Points
Brad Owens 04/26/09 - 03:45 pm
0
0
It should be downtown. I

It should be downtown. I drove by the golf gardens today on my way to walk the twi dogs at the greenway in North Augusta with my wife. As I drove past I began to think about what woiuld be great right there. Right then I found myself wishing it was one big dog park and walking park. If I had the money I would buy it and plant a forrest of live oaks, elms, pecan, walnut, and other great shade trees. Better than what we have now.

U.Dumus
0
Points
U.Dumus 04/26/09 - 05:18 pm
0
0
tickets now are 7.00 if they

tickets now are 7.00 if they build this thing the tickets surely would have to increase in price, no body goes to these games now except for drunk fest thursdays, thats a real family outing, will anyone show up if nothing is being given away? just put a toilet in the middle of the golf hall of fame and when we are downtown everyone can stop buy drop in a five and flush.

corgimom
26209
Points
corgimom 04/26/09 - 06:29 pm
0
0
I stopped going to the

I stopped going to the ballgames years ago. A drunken man exposed himself to me, my son (then age 12), and his friend(then age 11). I went and got a police officer. I was told nothing could be done. That was it for me. Sadly, too many people have suffered from drunks at the stadium to keep attending the games.

corgimom
26209
Points
corgimom 04/26/09 - 07:03 pm
0
0
If Cal Ripkin Jr. is so

If Cal Ripkin Jr. is so enthusiastic about this, and thinks it's such a great idea, why doesn't HE put up the money?

SlapShot2
0
Points
SlapShot2 04/26/09 - 09:56 pm
0
0
CORGIMOM if someone exposed

CORGIMOM if someone exposed themself to you, which I doubt, I think you should have more issue with the Richmond County police than the ballclub. I am a season ticket holder and I go 50 games a year and there are tons of families that attend everyweekend. I am proud of the greenjackets and proud to take my family to the games. Anyone can make up a stupid remark like yours. I seriously dont think a police officer would say he couldnt help you. As for Ripken, he has already said he would but his money in, as in public/private project. Name someone else that will invest in downtown with their own $.

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