Editor's Letter: February 2014

By Kenneth S. Allen
February 01, 2014

Sometimes the Columbia City Council defies understanding.

Here is the situation. An Atlanta owner of two successful minor league ball clubs promises to bring professional baseball back to Columbia. The developer of the Bull Street property offers to give the city land for ballpark. The city would have to build the park, but the baseball guy would rent the park at market rates.

Of all the things the city spends money on, you would think it would leap at the prospect of a build-to-suit deal that:
1 – Brings baseball not just back to Columbia, but to downtown.
2 – Has a tenant with a successful track record of running minor league ball clubs.
3 – Is on free land.
4 – And would not only jumpstart the development of the Bull Street project (being marketed as Columbia Commons), but would act as a catalyst to attract other projects to the 165-acre site.

Construction has to begin by March in order to be ready for the 2015 season.

And city council is dawdling.

It is not as if this is an untried concept. Durham built a new park for the storied Durham Bulls and rejuvenated a warehouse and factory district given up for lost.

Fluor Field in Greenville extended that town’s successful revitalization of Main Street into the West End, and Greenville Drive fans pack the nearly 100 restaurants and bars in downtown.

Charlotte is just finishing a downtown facility for the Knights, bringing professional ball back to the city after an absence of nearly 30 years. Baseball consultants conservatively estimate BB&T Park will draw 600,000 fans in the first year.

Several council members grumbled recently that some of their constituents questioned the need for a stadium or baseball. Of course, city council has to be good stewards of the taxpayer’s money. But council members also have to be leaders and do what is obviously in the best interests of the city, even if everyone doesn’t immediately understand that.

After all, it was no less of a visionary than Steve Jobs who said, “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

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