With departure of Sand Gnats, Savannah should redouble efforts to preserve and update Grayson

From Columbia’s The State newspaper today, It’s official: Savannah baseball team moving to Columbia:

Columbia team owner Jason Freier, whose Atlanta-based Hardball Capital operates minor league teams in three cities, announced Thursday that his group is moving the Savannah franchise to become the centerpiece of the 165-acre Bull Street development called Columbia Common. […]

The team’s contract to stay in Savannah’s aging Grayson Stadium expires Sept. 30, and city officials there have rejected Freier’s request to build a new ballpark. Columbia has committed $30 million toward building the ballpark here, with Hardball Capital kicking in the other $7 million.

Hardball Capital also runs teams in Chattanooga, which plays in the Double-A Southern League, and Fort Wayne, Ind., which plays in the Single-A Midwest League.

Click here for today’s statement from the Sand Gnats about leaving Savannah and Grayson.

The study commissioned by the city of Savannah to determine the feasibility of a new stadium at Savannah River Landing turned out to be laughable; in addition to issues I discussed with the study, the financial analysis was also deeply flawed and assumed that all revenues generated by the stadium would be new revenues. The city of Savannah subsequently decided to explore the possibility of a new stadium on the site just west of downtown near the proposed new arena.

The feasibility study dismissed the possibility of renovating Grayson Stadium, but, in a world where old stadiums like Wrigley and Fenway are doing just fine, that seems like a premature conclusion.

So, here’s what I’d like to see happen:

Let’s get serious about renovating historic Grayson Stadium. Maybe that means rebuilding much of the structure within the existing facade. It might mean adding some “luxury” boxes along the third base line. It would certainly mean upgraded clubhouse facilities. And, while we’re at it, why not consider the possibility of the type of event spaces that the Sand Gnats’ owner desires?

This would be an expensive project, but if another minor league baseball team owner knows that we’re serious about preserving, using, and seriously updating Grayson, maybe we’ll get some interest.

By the way, the idea from the flawed study of using Grayson as is for high school and college games and maybe for other events is extremely problematic. Is the city prepared to pick up all maintenance for the field? Can a mix of school teams maintain and run the score board, lights, concessions, etc.?

So let’s pour our hearts — and some of our money — into Grayson.

By the way, I should also add that the new ballpark in Columbia is still just a pile of dirt at the moment, and there doesn’t seem any guarantee that the city’s heavy investment in the Bull Street development will be pay off. I have to assume, however, that the Sand Gnats wouldn’t have made today’s announcement without complete certainty that the field will be ready for next season.

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