Sand Gnats owner promises a team to Columbia if new stadium is built

I spotted the Savannah Morning News’ Eric Curl’s blog post a couple of hours ago: Sand Gnats owner promises Columbia, SC a team

And since then I’ve been reading up on the big Bull Street development in Columbia, S.C., an ambitious plan to reimagine the 165 acre campus of the old state mental hospital in the heart of the city.

From today’s article in The State, Exclusive: Owner guarantees team if city builds Bull Street stadium:

Jason Freier, owner of minor league baseball teams in Fort Wayne, Ind., and Savannah, on Wednesday guaranteed he would bring a team to Columbia if the city builds a new ballpark as part of the redevelopment of the old State Hospital campus on Bull Street. […]

In an exclusive interview with The State on Wednesday, Freier said he would locate a team in Columbia even if he had to buy another franchise. He said he couldn’t discuss moving his Class-A Savannah Sand Gnats team here because that would be a violation of minor league baseball rules.

“If we do a deal with Columbia, we’ll bring an affiliated minor league baseball team here,” Freier said. “I have a lease in place with the city of Savannah that runs through end of the 2014 season. We have no legal commitments with the city of Savannah beyond the 2014 season. We would love to work with the city of Savannah. It’s what we’ve told them and that’s the truth. But if we made a commitment to the city of Columbia, that commitment would be our first commitment. We wouldn’t make any commitments to Savannah after that.”

The proposed stadium in Columbia was projected to cost $42 million, but Freier says that it could be constructed for $35 million.

For more on the Bull Street development, a huge project, check out this piece from The State in November: Selling the Bull Street development – the new Columbia Common. From that piece:

Although Bull Street may be headed for a common name, it is a very uncommon development. The sale of the 165-acre former insane asylum property is considered the largest land deal in modern Columbia history.

The development would add thousands of new homes, stores and offices – as well as a proposed new minor league baseball stadium.

Apparently student housing is planned for the old Babcock Building, a beautiful but eerie structure.

I would say from a cursory reading of what’s actually going on in Columbia that there is a whole lot more civic enthusiasm for a new stadium there than in Savannah.

Columbia’s Bull Street development, while obviously speculative, apparently is already slated to have lots of parking. The sheer size and the blank slate of the property would avoid design and land use conflicts inherent in siting a stadium at Savannah River Landing, as Freier and Hardball Capital have proposed.

I guess the question now for Savannah leaders will be whether these latest developments call for a quicker feasibility study here. Given the cost of the proposed new stadium and the lack of enthusiasm for it around town, I wouldn’t be surprised if Savannah officials just backed off completely and let the Sand Gnats go.