“Stadium vs. Arena” increasingly hot topic in Savannah

In my Tuesday City Talk column, I talked about the political dimensions of some of the current buzz about directing $22 million in tax monies earmarked for a new arena to a proposed new stadium for the Sand Gnats:

And now city officials are considering using that money for a new riverfront stadium for Sand Gnats games and for other events.

A stadium in Fort Wayne, Ind., has been promoted as a model, but the weather, culture and demographics are far different there than here. I’ll say more about those issues in an upcoming column.

I’ll just say now that, in principle, I like the idea of an open-air riverfront stadium.

But we voted in 2006 to fund an arena, not a stadium.

Continuing to divert funds from voter-mandated projects is terrible politics. Having such discussions just a few weeks in advance of the T-SPLOST vote is even worse politics.

Lesley Conn has a piece today that looks at some of the negotiations, Stadium visit over, Savannah evaluates if arena is greater need. From that piece:

Council has to honor a commitment to voters, who in 2006 approved a special purpose local option sales tax promoted with the promise that citizens would get a new arena.

“The city engaged the voters and promised an arena, and I think we should stay on that course and give the voters an arena first,” said Alderman Tony Thomas.

Alderwoman Mary Ellen Sprague concurs, but added a thought other aldermen are considering: Finding a way to build both. If Hardball Capital, owners of the Sand Gnats and the Fort Wayne team, really want a new Savannah stadium, Sprague said, it is likely to get done sooner if it’s paired with an arena.

She believes there can be efficiencies because of shared parking, concessions, security stations and staging requirements.

I’m going to be writing in my City Talk column much more extensively about the stadium plans, probably in August or September. But let me just say a couple of things here:

  • Creating a land use and funding plan for the arena should take precedence over the stadium, but it’s not a bad idea to think about creating both plans simultaneously.
  • Putting an arena and a stadium next to each other is a terrible idea for Savannah. That’s simply an overwhelmingly large single complex for a city like ours, and both facilities will be sitting empty many days. Or alternately, there will be events planned for both facilities on some days, overwhelming surface streets and parking.
  • Putting a covered arena on valuable, scenic riverfront property is an even worse idea. There’s a good argument for an open-air stadium, but I should note that the portion of Savannah River Landing now being considered is not right on the Savannah River, but back near the intersection of the Truman Parkway and President Street. If the public is going to have money in the game, that stadium needs to open on to the riverwalk.

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