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Contract Construction builds City’s new ‘baseball palace’

Columbia, SC, April 2016

“What you’re looking at connects the past of the City with the future of the City.”

Considering that this statement came from a city’s mayor, you might think it’s simple hyperbole.  But when it comes from Stephen Benjamin of Columbia, SC, and he’s referring to the city’s new baseball palace and all of the potential that lies in the land around it, it’s easy to catch a glimpse of his vision.

Spirit Communications Park, which opened April 14, 2016 under cloudy South Carolina skies, is the home of the Columbia Fireflies of the Low-A South Atlantic League.  The franchise made the 166-mile move north from Savannah, GA to Columbia following the 2015 season.  The Sand Gnats, as they were called, departed Savannah for the same reason that Columbia had been without affiliated Minor League Baseball until now:  the lack of an adequate ballpark.

“The decision to move was a tough one,” John Katz, the team’s president, told me.  “Savannah has a rich baseball history, and we didn’t want to leave.  Over a six-year period, we stood by our promise to do everything we could to stay in Savannah, but it got to a point from a facilities standpoint where it was hard to run a baseball business there.”

Indeed, 90-year-old Grayson Stadium was anything but state-of-the-art.  “There were days when the Internet for our entire stadium would go down because squirrels had chewed through the wires,” Katz noted.

The franchise’s ownership made the decision to move when they felt they had no viable option to stay in Savannah.  “There was no appetite from a political standpoint for either a new ballpark or a rebuilding of Grayson Stadium,” he said.

Interestingly, the same series of events occurred in Columbia – minus the voracious squirrels, one assumes.  The franchise known for 10 years as the Columbia Mets (and as the Capital City Bombers for 12 years) fled the market for the promise a new ballpark upstate.  By the team’s final seasons in Capital City Stadium in 2004, the facility had become quite sorry indeed.  Today, the franchise is flourishing as the Greenville Drive in Fluor Field, which was our Ballpark of the Year when it opened in 2006.

And although the ironic touch was probably unintended by the schedule makers, the Drive was the opponent when the newly named Columbia Fireflies opened Spirit Communications Park.

So affiliated Minor League Baseball is part of Columbia’s “past” that Mayor Benjamin was referring to in his quote.  Ask any market that has lost its team – it wants it back.  Those can be lonely years without baseball, as cities like Albuquerque, Sacramento, Fresno and Memphis learned.  When I asked Benjamin what the return of baseball means to his city, he became somewhat philosophical.  “The importance can’t be overstated,” he pointed out.  “Baseball is America’s pastime, and I don’t believe you can be a great American city if baseball isn’t being played there.”

The remedy, as other municipalities have learned, is to make a big investment in a new ballpark.  That goes a long way toward attracting the national pastime back to your city.  In Columbia’s case, the investment was $37 million, and was the centerpiece to an elaborate economic-development project.

That project is well underway, but is expected to take about 20 years to complete.  This is the “future of the city” the Mayor likes to talk about.

But there’s more to the “city’s past” to examine, much more than just the return of baseball.  The other aspect is truly big – 181 acres big.  We’ll examine that in The Setting section of our review.

First, though, let’s look at the financials involved with this ballpark … because when compared with other new parks in recent years, they seem hard to believe.

“When we started working on exactly what the new park was going to look like, we created a wish list of everything we could ever want,” recalled team president John Katz.  Since the owners also operate the Fort Wayne TinCaps of the Midwest League, they were able to draw upon their experiences with Parkview Field, which opened in 2009.  “We used Populous as the architects there, so we asked them what it would cost to build everything on our wish list in Columbia if there were no budget.  They told us, and then they explained what we needed to do to get to our number.”

That number was $37 million.  “And we stuck to it,” Katz added.  That started the process of refining the exact features, and no matter what weather events occurred and how subcontractor pricing rose, the group involved in the process didn’t let that budget change.  Indeed, when the park opened on April 14, 2016 – which was the originally targeted date — the final pricetag was $37 million.

On time.  And on budget.  And, to me, this is a $50-million-plus ballpark, built for $37 million.

The team that made this happen involved the City (with the key individual being Gregory Tucker, Special Projects Administrator for Columbia), the Sand Gnats/Fireflies (with owner Jason Freier and president John Katz being present at most of the meetings), CCEB (the consortium of contractors who built the facility), Hughes Development (Bob Hughes) and Populous (Mike Sabatini was the lead designer).

The makeup of the funding is interesting.  The City sold bonds totaling $29 million to pay for the construction.  Paying off those bonds is revenue from “meal taxes.”  “This is a kind of hospitality tax that was already in existence,” Tucker explained. “Any prepared meal in the city carries a 2% tax. Organizations can then apply for the funds to be used for something to promote tourism and the City.  In this case, money was designated for the stadium.”

Another $7 million came from the Fireflies franchise.  The rest?  “Mr. Hughes kicked in $1 million,” said Katz.  “That money was used to construct the elaborate entry plaza (for the park), which is truly spectacular.”

Helping all of this is the naming rights for the park.  Local employer Spirit Communications agreed to pay $350,000 a year for 10 years, with options to continue the arrangement beyond that.  Spirit also provides free WiFi in the park, with over 100 access points scattered around the facility.

But where exactly did they build this pretty ballpark, and how does it tie into the City’s history?

The City of Columbia had an interesting dilemma on its hands.  Close to the city’s center, there was a sprawling piece of property that for the past 150 years had a single purpose:  act for the betterment of the mentally ill of South Carolina.  On this property was a large state mental hospital (I heard many locals refer to it as “the asylum”) and numerous out buildings that supported the effort – including a bakery.

“As the years went by, attitudes about the way to treat the mentally ill changed,” Tucker noted.  “Eventually, the campus concept went by the wayside, and the State was left with a large campus with lots of abandoned buildings.”

By 2005, the South Carolina Department of Mental Health decided they no longer needed or wanted the property, so they declared that they would like to sell the 181-acre campus.  That was easier said than done, as various legal challenges were raised about exactly where the proceeds of the sale should go.  After almost two years, the Supreme Court of the State ruled that the sale could move forward.

The State hired a local company to attempt to sell the property.  Two years later, they and Hughes Development of Greenville, SC agreed to a contract that would put 165 of the acres under Hughes’ control.  The Hughes proposal was attractive because it involved developing the campus for residences, office space and commercial use.

This began a lengthy approval process that included the State Budget and Control Board (who approved the sale in June of 2011) and Columbia City Council.

The Mayor patiently outlined for me the arduous process the city went through.  “There was certainly aggressive opposition to the plan,” including two votes in the City Council that were 4-3. What carried the day, though, was a thorough feasibility study on what was likely to happen if the city were to be involved in a large development project that would include a ballpark.  “The numbers spoke for themselves.  The economic impact would be stunning, enough so that we could change the future of the city.”

Stunning?  You be the judge:  the study from Miley and Associates projected that once the project was built out, the labor income there would hit $581 million.  A year.  They predicted 11,000 new jobs would be created and the total economic impact would be $1.2 billion.  And for those of you who say public projects for rich developers never give anything back to the taxpayers, the study stated that the additional property taxes going to the school systems and local government would be $20 million.

In October of 2012, the Council approved the overall development plan, which came to be called The Commons at BullStreet (yes, there’s no space between Bull and Street), and in July of the following year, they formally named Hughes to be the master developer.  Construction began in earnest early in 2015 … almost exactly ten years after the State first announced that it wanted to sell the property.

Where does the ballpark come in?  That was the centerpiece of it all.  The construction of a first-class baseball stadium showed that this was a truly earnest project, in that the rest of the development action would emanate from it.

So where in the campus did the developer want the ballpark to be built?  He left it to the experts – and told them that they could have the land for free.  “We had the freedom to select the exact spot,” Tucker recalled.  “So we asked (Bob) Hughes, ‘Well, how much land are you donating?’  He came back and said, ‘Let’s try this.  You design exactly what you want, then we’ll draw the property line around it.’  It was truly the generosity of the developer who made this happen, because he wanted us to have everything we wanted, then he would set the (property) boundary for the park.”

The team, the City and Populous agreed on a site about two blocks from Bull Street on the western edge of the campus, about a block north of the Babcock Building, which was the original mental hospital.

Speaking of that building, there was a lot of discussion about what, if any, of the buildings on the campus would remain, since they were all both abandoned and crumbling.  But that didn’t make them unimportant, especially since the history of the site included a prison camp for Union soldiers during the Civil War and a separate annex with a mental hospital for African American patients, according to Mayor Benjamin.

“Early on, there were those who feared that we’d lose buildings with historic significance,” he told me.  “But now, they are all proponents of what we’re doing, because every historic building is being repurposed.”

Hughes worked with the Columbia Historical Society on which buildings to preserve, and they initially selected five, including the stunning Babcock Building, the campus’ bakery and the morgue.

The morgue, also called the Ensor Building, stands adjacent to the ballpark’s ticket windows and store.  When it is fully refurbished, there will be a restaurant on the ground level and office suites above it.

A brand-new building has been constructed along the ballpark’s right-field foul line.  Cleverly called the First Base Building, the structure offers 114,000 square feet of office space.  Its first tenants were about to move in as the park opened.  This building is directly in between the Ensor and Babcock Buildings.  All three are important in a discussion of the ballpark because of their proximity to the baseball facility.  The distinctive reddish cupola on top of Babcock is visible from the third-base stands.

Parking around the ballpark is a little dicey at this point, but that will get better and better as lots are built for the businesses and residents that are coming to the campus.  For now, shuttle buses run fans from lots that are about four blocks away.

Although probably still a couple of years away, there will be an apartment building beyond the left field concourse that will be very visible from within the park.

So this is an environment that will be a work in progress for years to come.  It’s important to point out, though, that I feel this won’t be a repeat of what has happened in many cities.  There are numerous examples of new ballparks that were constructed with the expectation that commercial development will immediately occur around it … and then it doesn’t. Things are happening right now at The Commons at BullStreet, which will make this an even better setting in short order.

Speaking of the surroundings, there is a lovely neighborhood just to the west of the park, across Bull Street.  The Cottontown historic district has beautiful canopied streets and attractive homes (below).  If you have time, enjoy a walk though it before a game.

Populous’ Mike Sabatini was the lead designer on Spirit Communications Park.  His firm also designed Parkview Field, the home park of the Fort Wayne TinCaps, also owned by Hardball Capital.

All of the renderings I’d seen of Columbia’s park sure made it look like Parkview.  Gregory Tucker told me, “We visited Parkview twice, and took the folks from CCEB.  We asked lots of questions about what the team thought worked and what didn’t.”  So I asked Sabatini if the new park was just a carbon copy of the one in Fort Wayne.  After all, Parkview Field is arguably the nicest in Low-A baseball.  It’s about as nice as a park can get.

“The starting point, from the client’s comfort level, was in fact Fort Wayne,” he revealed. “The distribution of seating (types) was something that Fort Wayne started for all of Minor League Baseball.  But Columbia’s park was designed for Columbia.  There is a lot more attention to detail, and you see that in the masonry-work.  Their entryway is a lot grander, and that’s just one of the things that the sloping nature of the Columbia site caused us to do.  In my mind, there are more differences than there are similarities.”

The entry plaza is indeed very grand.  When the developer pitched in $1 million for this area, the money was very well spent.  There are palmetto trees nearest the street and stairs and stairs and stairs that bring you up to the concourse level, all to account for the 15-foot change in elevation in that part of the site.

The ancient Ensor Building and the brand-new First Base Building make up a lot of the first-base side of the exterior, while the third-base side is a long, straight line that runs along Freed Street.  Since most people will enter behind home plate, the third-base side won’t be viewed as frequently … but that doesn’t mean that no effort was given to its look.  To the contrary, it is beautiful, with exposed steel arches (painted black) in the windows and protruding black rods to break up the straight masonry.

And that masonry is outstanding, with its varying brick sizes and colors – all to mimic the look of the old buildings on the campus.

Also down the exterior of the third-base line is an interesting featAlso down the exterior of the third-base line is an interesting feature: batting tunnels on street level, separated from the sidewalk only by netting.  “On game days, fans can walk by and actually see players practicing,” Sabatini explained.

Farther down Freed Street, just beyond the left-field footprint of the park, is a large graded area.  This is where the apartment buildings and their parking garage will be built in a few years.  The solid planning around this is evident.

And it’s at this point in our look around the outside the park that the most intriguing aspect of the exterior can be seen – if you look closely enough.  “We call this the Gregory Tucker Memorial Wall,” chuckled Jason Freier, the Fireflies’ owner, as he took me on a tour of the ballpark.  He was pointing at a 20-foot-tall retaining wall (below) that supported the concourse and kids’ play area.  He explained that he jokingly named the wall after Tucker, who in his role as the City’s project manager came up with an ingenious way to save money, while being environmentally conscious at the same time.

Normally, when a sturdy wall like this is needed to hold back tons of dirt and rock, it would require hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of concrete. “Tucker suggested we create gabion walls made up of crushed bricks from the campus buildings that had been demolished,” Freier said.  “Not only is this really sturdy, it was a responsible thing to do to re-use all of those bricks.  Otherwise, it would have cost a fortune to truck all of that debris away and dump it in a landfill.  In all, we calculated that it saved the project about $300,000.”  And it looks really good, because the colors of the brick fragments (obviously) match the still-standing buildings on the campus.

The perimeter of the park’s property in center field and all the way around to the First Base Building is simply chain-link fencing now. The right-field side between the ballpark and the Babcock Building is graded, ready for the new construction.  Sabatini assured me that there will be height restrictions on those new buildings to preserve the view of Babcock and its cupola from within the park.

Now let’s venture inside Spirit Communications Park to see how if it’s as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside.

The architectural design of the interior is impressive.  While by no means do you ever feel cramped, every square foot is intelligently utilized.  Much of this is to provide the incredible number of different seating options, including Concourse Suites right on the concourse at the rear of the seating bowl.

The concourse itself is open to the field, giving fans a view of the action on their way to and from concession stands.  And a personal favorite feature, a 360-degree concourse (a la Nashville’s First Tennessee Park), is ready for fans to circle the playing field.

The upper level is positioned to provide maximum shade for the seating bowl below – which will be quite welcomed in the South Carolina summer.

And that upper deck is beautiful, although it reminds me more of Nashville (also a Populous project) than Fort Wayne.  It contains 16 Luxury Suites sandwiching the massive 7,000-square-foot club (above) – and its three rows of club seats – and a fairly small pressbox.  At the third-base end of the upper level is the Broad River Balcony (below left), which can accommodate a group with as many as 120 attendees.  Sabatini explained that they designed the foundation of the park so that another group area could be built onto the first-base end of the upper level one day.  Count on it, because Freier told me that the Broad River Balcony almost sold out for the entire season as soon as group tickets went on sale.

There’s an oddity that I didn’t like in the upper level, though.  In front of the first row of club seats, there is a raised area a couple of inches high where the floor and the front of the section come together (above right).  I suspect it’s there for structural integrity somehow, but I fear that it could cause someone to stumble, especially when walking in front of fans who are sitting in the front row.  I know I did, because you certainly don’t expect a raised area to be there.  And if you stumble, well, bad things could happen since you’re at the very front of the upper deck.

A major difference between Nashville’s new stadium and Spirit Communications Park involves field suites. First Tennessee Park has four of them adjacent to the third-base dugout.  Their floor is actually below the level of the field.  Between the enclosed area and the seats next to the warning track of the field, each suite can accommodate 55 well-heeled fans.

Not so in Columbia.  “We decided we didn’t want anything like that here,” said Freier.  “Suites like that move the rest of the field boxes farther back from the field, and we wanted our fans as close to the action as possible. They also create a distinct division between fans, and that’s not what we are trying to achieve.”

Instead, you have the myriad types of seats seamlessly next to each other.  Directly behind the backstop are padded On Deck seats, with standard plastic seats behind them.  At the rear of the sections behind home plate are Scout Seats, complete with drink rails (below left).  Directly behind the seats in the odd-numbered sections are the Concourse Suites, with partitions to separate them from the rest of the concourse (below right).

Both the right-field and left-field corners contain dozens of tables with four chairs.  Near the concourse down the lines are 24 of the ever-popular Four Topps, where the table is a semi-circle, with four chairs.  “The tables themselves cost us a lot to buy,” Freier noted, “but fans really love them.”

The outfield also features a variety of seating types, including rocking chairs (below left) – which are on a first-come-first-served basis – and generously sized berms.  The right-field berm is terraced (below right), making it even nicer to sit on.

When I asked team president John Katz to name his favorite feature of the new park, he replied, “I don’t like to sit at baseball games.  I’m a wanderer, as I walk around

While you probably won’t be blown away by the variety or high-end quality of the concessions, you will be stunned by the affordability of attending a Fireflies game.

If you park in one of the lots that aren’t free, it will only cost you $3.  If you are in a lot a couple of blocks away, a free shuttle will transport you to the front gate of the park.

The cost of tickets, honestly, is astonishing to me.  Following the long absence of pro ball in Columbia, and the impressive nature of the facilities of the park, I expected seats close to the field to cost in the $18-20 range, and those slightly farther from home to be $14-16.

I was certainly in for a shock, especially when you compare the Fireflies’ prices to the newly opened Southern parks in Nashville and Biloxi.  In Columbia, the padded On Deck seats directly behind the backstop cost $12 – when you can get them, since they are largely season tickets.  Most of the rest of the main seating bowl is referred to as All Star seats, and they are $10.  In Nashville, their Premier seats in the infield are $24, while the last few rows (which they call Select seats) are $17.  In Biloxi, the rows closest to the field are $27 and the rows behind them are $15.

Columbia doesn’t charge extra for “premium” games, nor do they tack on any money for tickets purchased on the day of the game.  Both Nashville and Biloxi do, adding $2 to the prices above.  And while the Sounds and Shuckers charge $7 and $10 respectively for general admission tickets, Fireflies fans pay only $5.

These differences are astonishing.  I asked Freier if he was leaving money on the table by charging less than he could easily get away with.  “We look at this as a volume business,” he explained.  “We want our fans to come to the park, have fun and feel like they received a good value. Then they’ll want to come back – and bring their friends.”

A similar dynamic is at work with concessions.  While newer parks like in El Paso, Charlotte and Biloxi have gone head over heels with incredible dishes prepared at stands run by local restaurants, the Fireflies have made a conscious effort to buck that trend.

“We’ve never been ones to look at what others are doing and then try to do the same,” Freier revealed.  “We’ll use local people who know what they’re doing, but we’d rather run our own stands.  That way we can control what’s served and make sure we’re charging our fans a fair price.”  Again, the Fireflies want repeat customers, not fans who are wowed by incredible culinary creations, but then grumble about how high the concession prices are.  To accomplish this, the team keeps it all in-house.

“We’re not Ruth’s Chris Steak House,” Scott Burton, the Senior VP of Food & Beverage, told me with a laugh. “We can make something that is pretty good and that people can afford.  We probably had 100 (local) people call us and say they wanted to make our snow cones, but by the time they add in their mark-ups, they want to charge more than we think is affordable.  So we do them ourselves and sell them at our price.”

He added, “We want people to have a good time and feel they didn’t pay too much.”

The Fireflies’ approach is to sell ballpark staples at four permanent concession stands at the rear of the concourse behind the main seating bowl, Burton explained.  “What moves for us is normal ballpark food like nachos, hot dogs, chicken tenders, fries (and) hamburgers.  We added in some other items we thought would be popular like corn dogs, plus since we have pizza ovens behind two of the stands, we can serve freshly baked pizza, too.”

To supplement the four main stands – which can get pretty crowded with fans waiting in line – free-standing carts sell more specialized items.  For instance, the team is very proud of its Low And Slow BBQ Cart, which is behind home plate.  Here you’ll find a BBQ pork sandwich for $7, a very tasty brisket sandwich for $9 and “Three Little Pigs,” which is a trio of sliders, each with a different sauce for $7.  The three sauces are a standard tomato-based sauce, a delicious commercially available sauce called Carolina Gold and “a vinegar-and-pepper sauce we make ourselves, which I think is really, really good,” says Burton.

Other specialty carts include the cleverly titled Funnel Vision with funnel cakes made right in front of you ($5), the Palmito Mexican Grill featuring four types of huge burritos ($8), Sweet Carolina’s cotton candy and snow cones ($3.50 each) and the Slider Shack with mini hot dogs (two for $5) and burgers (two for $6).

Burton told me that he thinks the Tri-Tip Sandwich, available at the High Heat Grill cart in left field for $8, is the best-tasting item they sell.  “To me, the second best thing we offer are all of the sausages.  We have Italian, Hot Italian, Brats and Polish, and they’re all great.”  They are all $6 and are also at the High Heat Grill.

Hint:  if the lines are too long on the main concourse, stroll out to the outfield where the lines for the carts are much shorter.

As you’d expect, the food and drink is a little more sophisticated on the upper level, where the suites and club seats are located.  Burton said that fans there will enjoy a local product called Caramel Moonshine Ice Cream, and a variety of high-end wines are available, too.

Keeping with the team’s fervent desire to have affordable concessions, the beer prices are also lower than they could get away with charging.  Domestic beers are $7 for 24 ounces and $5 for pints.  The prices are half of those figures on Thirsty Thursdays, which included Opening Night.  Their craft beers are only sold in pints, and cost $7.  “This is a college town,” Burton noted, “so there are a lot of bars here.  We have to compete with happy hours all over town, so we keep the prices of our beers very reasonable.”

Notably, a brewery out of Atlanta called SweetWater operates a beer stand directly behind home plate (above).  Their own brand of beer is a staple in Georgia and the Carolinas, and the lines were always long to buy their drafts.

The lines were also long inside the Mason Jar, the team’s spacious merchandise store.  The popularity of the team’s firefly logo is unmistakable, but to me it doesn’t really say “baseball” at all (couldn’t part of the insect’s wings been shaped a little like a baseball bat?).  It is undoubtedly cute and modern, though.

The cost of souvenirs and apparel isn’t astonishingly low, but the prices are reasonable.  Adult t-shirts ranged from $18 to $25, and while kids T’s were $16 to $20.  Adjustable caps for adults ranged from $18 to $28, while all fitted caps were $25.  Kids’ caps were $15.

College basketball teams at Baylor and Oregon have popularized the neon “highlighter yellow” color that I find to be an assault on my eyes.  The Fireflies are taking advantage of this with a neon-yellow t-shirt for $23 and an adult polo for $64 (above right).

The whole concept of capturing fireflies in a mason jar is not only reflected in the name of the souvenir store, it’s also the name of the team’s mascot (below left).  Mason follows the trend of big, fuzzy mascots who are a slightly indistinct type of animal – but whom kids love.

The glow of fireflies is also reflected is some very clever signage.  To the left and right of the name of the store is a ribbon board of sorts made up of hundreds of neon-yellow LEDs that glow (above right).  The effect is particularly noticeable after it gets dark.  A very clever touch.

There is a kids’ play area down the left-field line with more inflatables that you’ll usually find at a ballpark.  I wish there was netting to protect the area from foul line drives, but one hopes those won’t be too frequent.  Interestingly, the gorgeous ballpark that Populous designed for the University of South Carolina baseball program across town has a very popular play area for kids, and it is very well-protected by netting.

The enjoyment of the fans is certainly enhanced by a super-sharp video screen in left field and an excellent sound system.  Well done.

All in all, the Fireflies have come right out of the gate with a well-polished gameday experience.  Certainly the success this ownership team has enjoyed in Savannah and Fort Wayne made this do-able.  No doubt, the fans’ enjoyment is certainly increased when they stop to consider how affordable a game is at this first-class facility. They know how to put on a good fireworks show, too.

There are a number of ironies and coincidences involving the Fireflies.  The previous affiliated Minor League team was affiliated with the Mets, and now the Fireflies are their Low-A farm team.  When the Capital City Bombers (as they were called before they moved) left town, they went to Greenville, SC – and helping to make the lower downtown area of Greenville (where beautiful Fluor Field was built) an incredible showplace of shops and restaurants was Hughes Development, the same company that donated the land for Spirit Communications Park, and who is the master developer for the entire 181-acre campus that surrounds it.

And as mentioned earlier, it was the Greenville Drive who provided the opposition when Columbia’s new park made its debut. It all came together in the ballpark’s first pitch, shown above.  And the visitors accommodated their hosts by losing.  Serves Greenville right for stealing Columbia’s team in the first place!

But attending a Capital City Bombers game at Columbia’s dilapidated Capital City Stadium was never anything like this.  And the way Columbia achieved the accomplishment of opening the new park is amazing – from a financial perspective, from a quality-of-facility perspective and from a timing perspective.

In an age when Minor League ballparks fail to come in under budget (Nashville’s park was $10 million over budget) and on time (the new parks in Biloxi and Hartford missed their targeted completion dates by about two months), Columbia’s Spirit Communications Park is a marvel.

I asked Tucker, the City’s project manager, how Columbia was able to accomplish what other cities couldn’t.  “We had the right people on the bus,” he replied.  “We had the right design team in Populous, who had an outstanding résumé of ballparks.  We had the right contractor, which was made up of companies like Barton Malow who’d done sports complexes before. We had the right ownership group for the (baseball) team in Hardball Capital, and they knew what they wanted.  The members of the team on this project gelled well right from the beginning.”

And to Mayor Benjamin, the park couldn’t have turned out better.  “It’s beautiful.  It’s truly a world-class Minor League facility.  You can find something for all people there, from the berms for overactive children to places for professionals to gather to spots where true baseball aficionados will be happy.

“If we were going to do it, we had to do it right,” he concluded.

And by bringing Columbia’s past to meet its future, they did exactly that.

Article and all photos by Joe Mock, BaseballParks.com
All rights reserved

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