January 7, 2015

City breaks ground on Spirit Communications Park

On Jan. 6, political and business leaders crowded around a symbolic pile of dirt and officially broke ground on what will be Spirit Communications Park.

On a cold, blustery January day, it might have been hard for some to imagine that, in just a little more than a year, an 8,500-seat stadium that will host minor league baseball will sit prominently on the Columbia Common site on Bull Street, on the campus of the old state mental hospital.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, Hardball Capital CEO Jason Freier, developer Bob Hughes and others gathered for the ceremonial groundbreaking. Formally breaking ground on the site was a major step in the winding road to bringing professional baseball back to the Capital City.

The stadium is expected to cost $37 million, $29 million of which will come through public funding. Freier has pledged to bring a minor league team to play in the park, and said at the ceremony that the announcement of the team's name, along with the announcement of its Major League Baseball affiliate, would likely come in the spring.

The team will begin playing at Spirit Communications Park in April 2016.

Freier also insisted Spirit Communications Park will be a true multi-use venue and noted the public will have access to the park everyday.

"The entire ballpark will be open 365 days per year," Freier said. "When there is not a ticketed event going on, people will be able to come in and use the facility. There will be places for people to have lunch, there will be a walking or a jogging track, and there will be a kids play area that will all be for the use of the Columbia Common development and the community as a whole, anyone who wants to come and use that."

Hughes has said previously that more than 40 retailers have pledged to open businesses in the area just outside of Spirit Communications Park. On Jan. 6, Hughes was not yet ready to reveal the names of any of those businesses, and said that his cousin, Jackson Hughes, is handling the retail development side of the project. He did say, however, that there will soon be an announcement of three of four "bellwether" retail establishments that will "set the tone" for Columbia Common.

Mayor Benjamin said the groundbreaking went beyond baseball, economic development and retail locations.

"It's about embracing a vision," said the mayor, a bullish proponent of the project. "A vision that says that we, the people of Columbia, can do so much more than just what is expected of us. It is about stepping forward with a good dose of hubris and humility to say, 'We are Columbia, a world-class city, a city of progress and a city of ideas.'"

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