Sand Gnats stadium at Savannah River Landing idea continues to develop

I’ve posted before about the idea of a new Savannah Sand Gnats stadium on the riverfront at the Savannah River Landing site.

For those who have forgotten, Savannah River Landing was a massive, $800-million, mixed-use private development at the eastern end of River Street that attracted millions in city infrastructure spending before the whole plan collapsed after the recession hit.

Still, as recently as last June, city officials seemed convinced — or maybe they were just convincing themselves? — that we’d still eventually see a major development similar to the original plan, which attracted national attention because of the extension of the Oglethorpe grid. From the NYT in 2007: Savannah Adds to the Master Plan of 1733

Back to 2012: Savannah voters have already approved sales tax funding for a new arena, but the economic downturn and other issues left us about $100 million short for arena funding. At the same time, the city is getting pressure from the owners of the single A Savannah Sand Gnats that they need a new stadium better than the historic but limited Grayson Stadium in Daffin Park.

Today in the SMN, Lesley Conn does a great job updating us on the current issues in play and the continued push for a new stadium — usable for baseball, concerts, and other events — in the downtown area, preferably at the Savannah River Landing site: Savannah council considers new stadium with SPLOST funding

It’s a pretty straightforward idea: divert $22 million currently set aside for the arena, which was the cornerstone of the city’s campaign to pass the last Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, to a new open-air stadium, and then come back to voters next year for a new round of SPLOST that would include full arena funding. That’s assuming, of course, that voters approve another round of SPLOST, which adds 1% to all sales taxes in Chatham County. The Sand Gnats would also need to put millions into the project (the construction bill would likely be $50 million or more) and commit to a long-term lease.

From Lesley’s piece, which is well worth a full read:

Because the stadium also would serve as a multi-use facility, it could be paid for with money from the 2006 SPLOST allocation, which stated in the referendum that the 1-cent special purpose local option sales tax would help fund an arena as well as “cultural and recreational facilities.”

Once the stadium is under way, the city would ask voters to approve a new SPLOST, which could happen in 2013, and would specifically earmark the new tax monies for an arena.

That would give the city time to raise money, study a site and determine how an arena could complement a stadium and the Johnny Mercer Theater.

City officials and Jason Freier, chief executive officer of Hardball Capital, parent company of the Gnats, say the stadium is a separate discussion from the arena talks. A stadium would serve separate needs from a traditional, indoor, enclosed arena.

Fort Wayne's Parkview Field being used for a wedding

Those involved in the discussions are looking at the stadium in Fort Wayne, Indiana as a model — the metro area only has about 50,000 more people than ours does, so it seems a valid comparison.

But there’s one key point that doesn’t make its way into the Savannah Morning News article today:

What do the current owners of Savannah River Landing have to say about this?

There’s an awful lot of chatter online about the site and there seems to be a presumption that “we” — meaning Savannah as a whole — has final say in what happens there. But the 54-acre site is owned by an investment group controlled by a Canadian pension fund. They have many tens of millions of dollars already wrapped up in the Savannah River Landing site, and it seems pointless to identify that as a dream site for a stadium without a clear grasp of what it would take to get the land.

As for the idea itself, I’d say it’s an intriguing one — and certainly better than the idea of an indoor facility on that prime land.

And, yes, Savannah could really use a prime outdoor space like this. In proximity to downtown, the Sand Gnats would also be a tourist draw to a degree that they are not now.

Will the public buy into this, considering the promises regarding the arena? I don’t know the answer to that one.