Savannah City Council skeptical of new stadium recommendation

Published: Oct. 2, 2014 at 10:13 PM EDT|Updated: Nov. 1, 2014 at 10:13 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - If you build it, they will come.

That was the takeaway from Johnson Consulting's $55,000 taxpayer-funded study of whether Savannah needs a new baseball stadium downtown.

But the City Council isn't so sure.

Hardball Capital, the owner of the Sand Gnats minor league baseball team, is planning to take the team to Columbia, S.C. unless a new stadium is built or massive upgrades are made to the gnats' home field, Grayson Stadium.

Columbia already has promised to build a multi-million-dollar taxpayer-funded stadium, and Hardball has promised to have a team there by April 2016.

They could buy a team, but Hardball CEO Jason Freier said that possibility becomes slimmer the more time passes without the city committing to building a new facility or making upgrades to Grayson that Freier -- and Johnson Consulting -- believe wouldn't bring the economic benefits a new stadium would.

"There will not be a team at Grayson long-term," Freier said. "It has gotten to a point that it's nearly impossible for us to function there."

Johnson Consulting showed the city polls Thursday with an overwhelming majority of responses supporting using taxpayer dollars to build a new stadium.

City Council members weren't convinced.

"Everyone I talk to is talking about, 'Where are my taxes going?'" District 3 Alderman John Hall said.

The consultants admitting that they have no way of knowing who responded to the online survey or how many times they responded.

The City County bristled.

"You have a poll that has no validity," At-Large Alderman Tom Bordeaux said.

Another issue for city leaders was the consultants' estimated $35 million price tag.

That estimate didn't include the cost of buying the land on the eastern end of River Street where the consultants propose to build the stadium.

"Who's thinking that we're going to build a $35 million stadium at Savannah River Landing without buying the land?" District 6 Alderman Tony Thomas asked.

On its website, Johnson Consulting has a long list of city and county governments that have hired them to do stadium studies.

In an interview he consulting firm's Sports Project Manager, Brandon Dowling, said the firm, to his knowledge, never has recommended a government decide not to build a minor-league baseball stadium.

"Not any that we've worked on," Dowling said.

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