Macon-Bibb officials to hear pitch on possibility of funding baseball study

pramati@macon.comSeptember 24, 2013 

When Macon Mayor Robert Reichert met with his Rome counterpart last year, he noted that Evie McNiece always answers his question of how the Rome Braves are doing with a smile.

“It drives me crazy,” Reichert said.

Macon has been without an affiliated minor league team since the Macon Braves finished the 2002 season and departed for Rome after that city built a $14 million stadium to lure them away.

Reichert and officials from the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority will hear an informal presentation Wednesday night to gauge the authority’s interest in funding a feasibility study to explore what it would take to bring minor league baseball back to Macon.

Reichert stressed the early nature of the talks.

“(The meeting is) to give a relaxed setting to present to members of the Urban Development Authority the possibility of a feasibility study to see about a new stadium or upgrading Luther Williams (Field),” Reichert said.

According to the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting, the presentation will be made by Huntley Partners Inc. Efforts to reach the firm for comment were unsuccessful Tuesday.

The baseball study also is on the authority’s Thursday agenda.

Authority members said Tuesday they know little about Wednesday’s presentation.

“I think it’s a wild idea, but wild ideas can turn into great ideas,” authority Chairman Chris Sheridan said. “This is dreaming at this stage. It’s a very informal presentation.”

“We’re going to find out what their proposal is,” added Alex Morrison, the authority’s executive director. “That’s why they’re scheduling this (presentation) in advance. We have no information at this point.”

The firm proposing this idea was introduced to Reichert about four months ago through the firm overseeing the redesign of Second Street in downtown Macon, the mayor said.

Reichert said he’s very open to the idea of a professional minor league baseball team in Macon, since the only minor league baseball the city has seen in the past decade has been a couple of semi-professional teams in leagues that folded after a season or two.

Reichert said he went to Greenville, S.C., a few years ago when that city was debating whether to build a new stadium, and where it would be located. Ultimately, Greenville built the stadium away from redevelopment-heavy areas of downtown, worrying many residents. However, Reichert said ultimately the city saw businesses pop up near the stadium, leading to a thriving area.

Reichert, who also attended a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Oklahoma City three years ago, said officials there elected to build a new baseball stadium in an old warehouse district, ultimately rejuvenating that part of downtown.

Macon’s Luther Williams Field, built in 1929, is the second-oldest baseball stadium in the country. It served as home for various professional franchises. Pete Rose and Chipper Jones played the early stages of their careers there.

Recently, Luther Williams Field has gotten more use in entertainment-related ventures. Filming for the movies “Trouble With The Curve” and “42” took place in 2012 at the stadium, and a Luke Bryan Farm Tour concert scheduled there Oct. 5 is expected to draw thousands.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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