Summer baseball team officials are renewing efforts to bring a franchise to Macon-Bibb County.
Mayor Robert Reichert announced Tuesday that the owners of the Savannah Bananas, a summer collegiate baseball team, are planning to meet with the County Commission in February. Almost a year after the commissioner of the Coastal Plain League first expressed interest in Macon, local officials will hear another pitch on why Macon should become latest city to join the league.
It’s possible Macon-Bibb could replicate the recent success of the Savannah where every home game was sold out in 2016, Reichert said.
This would be a new franchise and not a relocation, he said.
“We’ve gone so far as to hammer out some of the details for a proposed (memorandum of understanding) to lease the stadium,” Reichert said during the Macon-Bibb retreat in Athens.
The mayor suggested Tuesday spending about $2.5 million in special purpose local option sales tax for improvements to Luther Williams Field. The league would like to have a team playing at Luther Williams for the 2018 season, he said.
Commissioner Gary Bechtel said the prospect of having a franchise come to Macon is enticing.
“With the total revitalization of Central City park, bringing this Coastal League team will hopefully get a lot of people down to enjoy the ball and the facilities as well,” he said.
Some county commissioners said Tuesday that they could be open to using SPLOST funds for Luther Williams, but want a deteriorating Henderson Stadium to also get some improvements.
“It’s going to be hard to shell $2.5 million for (Luther Williams) if we leave out Henderson Stadium,” Commissioner Elaine Lucas said.
Road to coastal
A study last year said Macon-Bibb and surrounding communities could support a minor league Class A baseball team. That likely would be dependent on building a new multimillion dollar venue for the team, according to the study.
Finding a Class A team to relocate to Macon has been difficult because most affiliates are tied into longterm agreements with their cities, Reichert said.
The lease closest to ending is in Rome, where Macon lost its Atlanta Braves affiliate in 2002, he said.
Since then Macon has been home to several other baseball teams. Two independent minor league teams — the Macon Peaches and Macon Music — each lasted one season while another summer collegiate league team, the Macon Pinetoppers, also had a brief stay.
Even if a Coastal franchise plays at Luther Williams, Reichert said he still wants to look into building a multipurpose venue for sports, concerts and other events.
Coastal Plain’s has 15 franchises with teams in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.