Your thoughts on pro baseball in Columbia?

Cropped from an image by Tage Olsin,

Cropped from an image by Tage Olsin,

You probably saw the news today:

Minor league baseball at a new stadium on the former site of the S.C. State Hospital on Bull Street wouldn’t adversely impact the two-time national champion University of South Carolina Gamecocks baseball team, experts who conducted a feasibility study for the city told council Tuesday….

My first reaction to that was, “of course it wouldn’t ‘adversely impact’ the Gamecocks, because ‘impact’ isn’t a verb.”

My second reaction was, “Nor would it adversely affect the Gamecocks, a team that was national champion two out of the past four years.”

My third was, “Why did we need a study in order to realize that?” And then I figured that people would make that bogus argument whether it made sense or not, so something was need to move past that objection.

Now that common sense has been seconded, what do y’all think about this plan to bring minor-league ball back to Columbia?

As you may recall, I was really disappointed when USC refused to share its new park — there was a AAA team interested at the time — but there’s no undoing that. I still think the best spot for a minor-league club would have been down by the river, but now that that’s out, the Bull Street location seems an OK second choice.

But no better than just OK. It would be better in a location that’s easier to walk to from the heart of downtown. Greenville has that; why shouldn’t we?

But if we have to settle, this plan’s OK. I guess…

43 thoughts on “Your thoughts on pro baseball in Columbia?

  1. Stan Dubinsky

    I have no problem with there BEING a minor league team in Columbia, and might even go to a few games (as we did when the Columbia Mets/Capital City Bombers played here).

    HOWEVER, I fear that the intention is to have the City (i.e. its taxpayers, not its elected officials) pay for it, by borrowing more money through a bond issue proposed by the City (i.e. its elected officials, not its taxpayers).

    I would oppose this (a bond issue, not a stadium), because I feel that our City’s pathetically incompetent leaders already have Columbia on a fast-track to bankruptcy, and see no reason to speed that process along.

    Unless and until our mayor and council can run the affairs of this city without raiding the water/sewer fund, I see no justification for taking on a project on this scale.

    1. Silence

      Good comment Stan. The most likely source for the funding will be the hospitality tax funds, which will deprive existing recipients of those funds, at least in the short term. I don’t think the city has much borrowing capacity left under the statutory general obligation borrowing cap.

  2. Kathryn Fenner

    USC didn’t “refuse to share”–its funding source forebade it! Private activity, and all.

    I stand with the folks who live nearby. I understand they don’t want a large event drawing more traffic. Silence?

    1. Silence

      Since you asked, Kathryn – My biggest concern is the noise, and traffic is a distant second.
      The ballpark will host approximately 80 home games per year. They will use pyrotechnics, there will be PA noise, and crowd noise. The season runs May-September. Many if not most of the games will be in the evenings, since it’s just not pleasant to sit around outdoors in Columbia mid-day in June, July and August. The adjacent historic neighborhoods are full of houses with old, drafty, single pane windows. Windows which cannot be replaced, due to local historic preservation guidelines. Windows which we like, and want to keep. It’s gonna be noisy. The stadium will need to host other events to be profitable. It will host outdoor concerts – in the evening, and into the night. The acts will bring their own sound systems which will be loud and bothersome to the neighbors. I wouldn’t mind going to some games, but I don’t want to hear them when I’m trying to put small children to bed. I don’t want the city’s new ballpark to be a nuisance to the neighbors, myself included.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        We lived a few blocks away from Portland ME’s minor league stadium, in a 1930 house. In summer with the windows open you could make out the National Anthem. The worst was the cannon they’d set off at the start of the games. At first, no one knew what it was.
        The fireworks were nice to watch from home. They were actually less like bombs going off than the ones we experience where we live now, from the USC stadium, New Year’s, etc.

  3. Patrick Cleary

    I’d like to watch minor league baseball, and agree that a new ballpark on the Bull Street property would be a centerpiece to the new development. I don’t even mind a bond issue to pay for it, but what kinds of guarantees will we have against another white elephant stadium? If the team leaves, we end up like Atlanta, with a nearly new ballpark near the urban core, sans use.

  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    FYI, here’s a release Mayor Benjamin put out on the subject yesterday:

    The baseball diamond as public square

    Dear ,

    The results from the baseball feasibility study City Council commissioned just over a month ago are in confirms what many of us already believed; that building a multi-use sports and entertainment venue in our city’s urban core that would, among other things, host a Minor League Baseball team could be the catalyst we’ve all been waiting for that takes Columbia to the next level.

    I encourage you to read the full study for yourself, but in the meantime here are some of the highlights:
    The facility itself will generate 1,630 new jobs and $192 Million in new wages.
    Activity at the facility will generate $201 Million for local hotels and restaurants.
    It will create $18.5 Million in new tax revenues.
    A Minor League team would complement and not compete with Gamecock Baseball
    Now, while this study paints a pretty clear picture of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we have before us, I also know that it’s just beginning.

    There are still a lot of questions that need to be answered. How do we create a strong public-private partnership that shares the burden and addresses the needs of our neighborhoods as well as our business community? How do we construct a first class facility open to the public without raising taxes? Most importantly, how do we prevent the city from incurring millions of new costs for ongoing maintenance?
    We must have an open and honest conversation that engages all of Columbia and answers those questions if we are to move forward together.

    I am fully committed to leading that discussion in citywide forums and neighborhood meetings across our city over the next several weeks because I believe it’s too important not to.

    You see, this isn’t just about baseball or the wide variety of cultural, community, business and neighborhood events this multi-use facility will host in the years to come. It’s not just about Bull Street or the new businesses spring up all around it.

    It’s about a family of four able to afford a night out together and a father reconnecting with his son over a mid-summer double header. It’s about children finding their heroes on the field of play instead of the street corner and boy scouts camping out in the outfield. It’s about finally embracing Columbia’s promise and building the future we’ve been waiting for.

    This is our time. This is our moment. This is our chance to fulfill Columbia’s promise together.

    Steve Benjamin
    Mayor, City of Columbia

    1. John

      Shouldn’t the first question be whether or not something so lucrative actually NEEDS the proposed partnership? The letter sounds more like the City should just get out of the way of all the rainbows and dollar bills and let the baseball team take us “to the next level” on their own.

      Also – this is a sidebar – is the Mayor using this letter as some kind of entry in a bad writing contest? It’s a serious contender for the Worst Overuse of Cliches category.

  5. Doug Ross

    I wish they wouldn’t use these made up numbers like “The facility itself will generate 1,630 new jobs and $192 Million in new wages.Activity at the facility will generate $201 Million for local hotels and restaurants.
    It will create $18.5 Million in new tax revenues.”

    When he says “will” that means he’s guaranteeing it, right? The better word would be “might”… and even better would be to say “it will add some jobs, some tax revenues, etc. but there isn’t any real way to calculate the impact”.

    He used the same phony analysis to push for the penny tax. Bogus numbers extrapolated from other bogus numbers and then projected using the most optimistic models.

    We need a baseball stadium because there are fans who will support it. More people will show up than at all the historical sites that get funding combined.

  6. Doug Ross

    And off-topic, but the fact that 2.5% of baseball writers who submitted Hall of Fame ballots left Greg Maddux off is worthy of a public flogging with baseball bats.

  7. Bryan Caskey

    Been in court all day….

    A minor league team won’t adversely affect USC Baseball. It’s strong enough. However, regardless of what some study says, I am highly skeptical that there is sufficient demand for minor league baseball. Yes, I am discounting a study. Who is out there pining for minor league baseball? It’s not really that different from college baseball, other than the use of wooden bats.

    I say all this as someone who LOVES baseball. I go to most of the USC Baseball games, and I’ve been going for years. I play fantasy baseball with a group of my law school friends. I love baseball. I love MLB games. It’s one of the best ways to spend a summer evening with your family. However, I have no real interest in seeing minor league ball when already there’s such a good product in USC Baseball. I’m not going to two baseball games a night.

    For USC Baseball, the good points are:
    1. Cost. It’s very cheap to go to a Carolina baseball game. You can buy tickets the day of the game and sit in the bleachers, so you can take the whole family for a low price. Could a minor league team match this? Probably. (I’ll concede this point for the sake of argument.)

    2. Safety and kid-friendly environment. This is a very close second, almost a 1A. If you’ve ever been to a USC game you see the plethora of young children all around. They cater to young children and families with the entire place being fenced, having a bounce castle, and kid-friendly food, and a wholesome atmosphere (no alcohol). It’s very safe. Most people allow their young children to walk around because it’s so safe. Would a minor league park have this level of safety and kid-friendliness? I really doubt it. Also, a minor league park will definitely sell alcohol. This may be a plus to some folks, but it will be a turnoff for some people if the drinking makes it noticeably less kid friendly.

    3. Comfort and convenience. USC’s stadium has plenty of parking all around, and it’s convenient to get to from most anywhere. I’m not sure how easy it will be for a minor league park to match this. Obviously, we don’t even have a site yet, but it’s hard for me to imagine something with better convenience than on the river with sufficient parking. Everyone drives here. If you don’t have parking, you’re screwed.

    4. Community Involvement. Would a minor league team weave itself into the Columbia community the way the USC team has? Maybe, but that will take time. The minor league team will need to to a lot of community involvement events for both marketing purposes and to get people from Columbia warmed up to the idea of another team. (Hey, here’s a job for ADCO. You’re welcome, Brad.)

    Economically , I just don’t see the benefit that another baseball team brings to Columbia. People aren’t going to send *extra* money on a minor league team. People from out of town aren’t going to travel to see their Myrtle Beach Pelicans play. It’s going to be a Columbia crowd. Heck, I’d bet you the USC Baseball team would bring in more out of town dollars with how well SEC baseball fans travel. You will see people driving from LSU, Auburn, and Georgia when we host those teams here.

    Accordingly, even if minor league ball is successful, it’s just going to be a diversion of money that would have been spent elsewhere, so I don’t really see the economic upside ESPECIALLY if part of the team/park is publicly financed, because you have to net that back out.

    Honestly, if we’re going to spend public money, I’d rather see the money spent elsewhere. The sewer system or burying electric lines (like we did along Gervais so long ago) aren’t “sexy” like a baseball team is, but the basic infrastructure is probably a better use of our public funds.

    But that’s just me. I just call the balls and strikes like I see them.

    1. Doug Ross


      USC baseball ends in May. Minor league baseball runs through the first week of September. The quality of play is much better, even at the A ball level – and you get the thrill of watching players move up thru organizations and sometimes to the majors.

      For families, the minor league teams have more kid friendly activities both during the games between innings as well as bounce houses, rides, etc. For adults, there are adult beverages (usually some local microbrews) as well as better food options than you can get at a college game.

      USC’s baseball stadium is a pretty sterile, low key environment. It’s located basically in the middle of what feels like an industrial park.

      1. Bryan Caskey

        I agree the industrial park isn’t a scenic setting. I’m not sure the “quality of play” is much of a draw. I don’t know anyone who goes to see Pelican games because of the quality of the players.

        Having said that, I take your point. If there was a safe, accessible cheap, family-friendly minor league game in downtown Columbia, I’d probably take the family. If they had a craft beer, I’d definitely get one. If I’m not at the beach or elsewhere in the summer months I might go to a game or two. However, it bears keeping in mind that in the summer months, Columbia becomes a sort of ghost town as people take vacations and otherwise leave Columbia.

        Could it be good? Yeah, I guess. If everything goes perfectly. Do we really *need* a minor league stadium? Not really.

        1. Doug Ross

          Here’s a link to South Atlantic League (Low A ball) attendance last year:

          The worst two, Hagerstown and Kannapolis, are nowhere near as large as Columbia. Hagerstown is one of the rumored teams that could move here. They only averaged 1,000 fans.

          Greenville averaged 4,800 fans per game. And that was only third best in the league. Lakewood averaged nearly 6,000 fans. 400,000 total for the season.

          As a comparison, the State Museum reported the following for 2012:

          Even in light of the country’s depressing economic climate, in 2011.12 the State Museum generated attendance of 185,124 which was an increase of almost 50,000 or 36%!

          For the first time ever, the State Museum generated earned revenues over $2,000,000 at $2,338,000!

          A baseball stadium with an average of 4,000 fans would deliver higher attendance and more revenues in just half a year.

  8. Kathryn Fenner

    I think the spin that it won’t detract from Gamecock ball is misdirection. The question is, with Gamecock ball dominating the decent weather season, who will go to games in the famously hot summer.

    1. Silence

      I am wondering exactly that! I for one do not want to go sit outside in late July and sweat to death to watch minor league baseball.

      1. Doug Ross

        The Columbia Blowfish get decent crowds for a college all star team in the summer despite being in a crappy stadium. My son worked as an intern for them last summer and I went to a half dozen games. At least two of them were almost sold out when there was a promotion going on. Hank Aaron was the special guest at one game.

          1. Doug Ross

            They were going to move to Lexington but it looks like they will be back in Capital City Stadium this summer unless it gets condemned first.

            The demand for baseball is much greater than some of you think.

          2. Bryan Caskey


            Maybe the demand is there. Maybe. I’m still really skeptical. I just dislike the thought of plowing public funds into something like this on the hope that it’s going to be a big hit.

            Maybe that’s me just being too *conservative* in the sense that I’m risk-averse.

          3. Kathryn Fenner

            If the demand is there, why won’t it make it in the privately funded sector?

            Demand is there for walking trails, based on the heavy use the riverfront paths get.

          4. Doug Ross

            “If the demand is there, why won’t it make it in the privately funded sector?”

            Ok. Can we do the same for funding of the arts and historical buildings? I’ll accept that.

            Walking trails don’t generate any additional revenues except the unmeasurable “quality of living” aspect. A baseball stadium creates jobs, create ancillary hospitality tax revenues which could then be plowed back into walking trails.

            I don’t think the local government should pay 100% for a stadium, but I would think there could be some participation funded specifically by hospitality taxes, a tax on ticket sales, some percentage of parking fees. Let’s do some quick math here:

            Let’s say an A ball team attracts 2000 fans for 75 games. 150,000 tickets sold. 40,000 parking spaces sold. The typical fan will spend $10 on food ( that’s one drink, a hot dog, and peanuts). $1.5 million in concessions. All of these seem like lowball estimates. The highest average attendance in minor leagues is closer to 8,000 per game. Could you generate $500K in fees, taxes off that stadium per year? Seems like it. Here’s where I stop and ask what kind of bond amount could you get for $500K for 20 years? $7 million???

          5. Kathryn Fenner

            But you don’t approve of government funding of the arts…

            And it’s going to be my tax dollars….

          6. Doug Ross

            And mine. If they use hospitality taxes…

            So would you agree that neither baseball nor the arts should be funded or do you just want to fund the things YOU like? I’m okay with making it all private if the government doesn’t get a cut of any additional revenues beyond the concession food tax.

          7. Kathryn Fenner

            I think things that can pay for themselves, as this baseball deal is said to be, should do so. I think that things that are more than bread and circuses, that expand the mind or help physical fitness should get priority.
            I, unlike you, don’t have a huge problem with government funding all manner of things! If it is generally good for the community, let’s pay for it!

          8. Kathryn Fenner

            And I distinguish between for-profit activities and not-for-profit activities. Public funding should be biased strongly to favor not-for-profits. Else, you have to worry about corruption.

          9. Doug Ross

            Except you accept that a small faction of people are enlightened enough to make the decisions on what is the “proper” way to spend other people’s money on the arts programs. I don’t accept that as the right way to spend tax dollars. If the arts programs are worthwhile, they should be able to find either a paying audience or benefactors with deep pockets.

            What activities would you like to see funded that aren’t personal favorites of yours? How about a big country-western jamboree?

          10. Kathryn Fenner

            I dislike pretty much anything that makes it harder to park or drive through the city, which means pretty much any event, but I support the use of tax dollars, prudently, to support them. They enrich our society and help local merchants.

            I am a homebody/nature type for entertainment.

      2. Kathryn Fenner

        I have hated baseball ever since my parents would drag me to Atlanta Braves games on the 4th.
        And Atlanta cools off a lot more at night than Columbia….

        Now, sitting in Wrigley Field, instead of the office, a fine summer afternoon, I can relate, and Portland has lovely summer evenings….

  9. Norm Ivey

    People pay feasibility study groups to write reports that say things are feasible.

    I’d go to a few games a year, especially during the summer when I have more free time. The serving of local craft beers would be a HUGE plus for me. The location, I think, could be made to be very attractive. As a concert venue, it would be in competition with the proposed music farm in the Vista, and I’m not sure Columbia could support two such venues. I’m not sure it could support a minor league team, either.

    I like the idea of anything that makes Columbia more attractive as a place to go to do things. It’s so tied up as a government town that it seems people only come here because they have to.

  10. Patrick Cleary

    Interesting numbers from the survey. Intuitively, 1600 jobs seems orders of magnitude too many. The construction would create short term jobs, but permanent jobs would be around 20 for the team. There would be some more summer jobs/internships, but nothing near like a new factory/distribution center/etc.

    I would like to see a team, and could accept an arrangement where the city places a bond issue paid back by concessions, parking, and event revenues (a well-designed stadium could host the state high school tournament, concerts, and other events). I just worry about the accountability factor.

      1. Silence

        I did the math the other day when the study came out, it worked out to something like an average of $12,500 salary per direct job. Lots of part time jobs being ushers, security, vendors and stuff. Probably a few full time jobs for maintenance people and groundskeepers. And of course the players, coaches and manager.
        I hope that they get Amanda Whurlitzer to pitch…

  11. Lynn T

    These inflated benefit numbers produced by companied hired to push projects are tiresome and should be recognized for the propaganda that they are. In any case, it is time for the city leadership to identify their proposed public funding sources and amounts as part of the debate, not just push that aside until a decision has been made. We can’t evaluate any proposal adequately without knowing the trade-offs, and that hasn’t been done. If the money goes to the baseball stadium, it won’t go to other priorities — what are they? Columbia must stop making decisions based on half the data. Trying to get citizens excited about a stadium without that information is not responsible.

    1. Bryan Caskey

      That’s exactly right. If you ask people if they want something the answer is usually “Yes”. However, if you ask them: “Do you want something if the cost is X?”, then you start to get a more educated response.

      I want all sorts of things. Ferraris, a house on the beach, a new M4 model rifle, and so on. If you ask me, “Do I want these things, my answer is “Yes.”. If you start putting a price tag on them, my answer becomes “no.”

      All too often we see this with politicians pushing for new programs and such. People generally want things. They paying for it — not so much. (Cough /healthcare cough).

  12. Doug Ross

    Here’s an example of a downtown ballpark in Columbus, Ohio — a city similar to Columbia (state capital, large college presence). It’s in an area similar to the Vista in Columbia. I’ve been to games there a couple times and it’s a very nice ballpark with many restaurants within walking distance.,_Ohio)

    The ballpark includes 32 suites, 42 loge boxes, and 650 club seats.[14] The Left Field Building includes a 110-foot bar with six open patios overlooking the field on the second story. The third story is The AEP Power Pavilion, an open air rooftop with bleachers reminiscent of Wrigley Field. The Picnic Terrace in left field will offer fans a place to relax and take in a ballgame 325 feet down the line. The Wendy’s Hamburger Balconies in right field overlook a 22-foot wall that is only 318 feet down the line.

    It has also been used for concerts by acts like Dave Matthews and REO Speedwagon.

    A well designed ballpark can be a real focal point for a downtown area.

  13. Kathryn Fenner

    I have to say that today’s story, that more historic buildings will be saved, and that the owner guarantees a team (how good is that guarantee, I wonder, though), but I cannot shake the feeling that we’ve been played.


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