Friday, March 30, 2012

Azziz Gets Control of Golf and Gardens Property; Creates Problem For Ballpark

Friday, March 30, 2012
Augusta, GA
From Reports

With just 30 minutes left on the clock until this year's Georgia General Assembly adjourned, The GA House approved the transfer of the beleaguered Golf and Gardens property on Reynolds Street to GHSU late last night. It now goes to Governor Nathan Deal for his signature.

But one stipulation in the transfer of the property could be a big problem for proponents of a minor league baseball stadium at the site. A clause in the bill authorizing the transfer says that there can be no commercial development on the property for 3 years, or until bonds that are still owed on the property from The Georgia Golf Hall of Fame project are paid off. That would preclude any public-private partnerships on the property for at least 3 years, including a new baseball stadium for The Augusta Greenjackets.

This stipulation could give Dr. Ricardo Azziz an easy out in saying "No" to a ballpark at the site. Sources have been telling us that Azziz has never been enthusiastic about the ballpark proposal. Indeed, Azziz's stated vision for the 16 acre property has included everything from a high tech bio research park, student housing, and the cultural arts.. including possibly a school of Music and a Performing Arts Center. Conspicuously missing from Azziz's language has been a "Multi-use" ballpark at the site. And there would be little room for all of the things Azziz would like to see at the property if a ballpark is built there. The site is only slightly more than 16 acres and a ballpark would easily consume half of that at least, and it is still not clear how it would benefit the new university.

Azziz could now say that he needs to move on with developing the property and cannot wait 3 years to include a ballpark under the rules. So does this mean that The Mayor and Ripken Baseball have struck out on their dream for a downtown ballpark? Well, maybe not. Ballpark proponents may try to change the language of the partnership, where the Ballpark would be constructed as a state owned facility for the University.. and after 3 years Ripken Baseball would enter into a lease agreement with the University to use the stadium. Under this scenario though, state taxpayers would end up footing 100% of the the costs of the the stadium. Sources tell us though that Azziz is not likely to go along with such a scenario.

But ballpark proponents could have another trick up their sleeve. Sources are telling us that an alternative downtown riverfront location they are eyeing is the city-owned land located at 511 Reynolds Street by the Riverwalk Marina. At 6.7 acres, it is a quite a bit smaller than the Golf and Gardens property and would be a tight fit for a ballpark, but not out of the question.

That parcel was once the focus of a failed condominium development called The Watermark. The city purchased the land from the city's pension fund and paid for environmental clean-up so that the condominium developer could proceed with the sale and begin developing the property. However, the financial collapse of 2008 doomed the project and the land still sits empty with no potential buyers.

This same property was eyed for a downtown ballpark in the mid 1990s by the city of Augusta, just prior to consolidation. It failed to win the approval from the city council, and instead upgrades to the existing Heaton Stadium were made at Lake Olmstead, creating the current Lake Olmstead Stadium. So if this means the door is closing on the ballpark at the Golf and Gardens site could another one be opening just down the street at The Riverwalk Marina? One thing is for sure, the Mayor and Ripken Baseball don't seem content to let this thing die a quiet death. Stay tuned for updates.***

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