A study to determine Macon-Bibb County’s ability to support a professional baseball team could come down to a close vote Tuesday.
Four commissioners said last week they plan to vote in favor of the $50,000 feasibility study, which would need support from at least five of the nine commissioners to pass. Meanwhile, commissioners Elaine Lucas and Bert Bivins have said they’re voting against the measure while some others expressed concerns about the proposition.
The resolution, sponsored by Mayor Robert Reichert, would call for the firm Brailsford & Dunlavey to analyze the financial impact of baseball in Macon-Bibb over a 20-year period. The Washington, D.C.-based company that’s been involved in 50-plus ballpark projects also would help determine public and private funding methods.
Commissioner Mallory Jones said he is undecided which way he’ll vote, but he’s skeptical there’s enough support in the area for another minor league baseball team.
“I’m not sure it’s justified based on the history in Macon,” he said Friday. “We had this great park with Luther Williams (Field), so why is it going to be successful if we get a new one?”
Commissioners Gary Bechtel, Ed DeFore and Scotty Shepherd said they support the study, citing potential economic benefits. Commissioner Larry Schlesinger said his inclination is to vote yes, but he understands why some officials have raised questions.
“I think there are some commissioners who do have concerns, and I’m not sure they were totally addressed,” Schlesinger said. “I definitely think a feasibility study is great, but I think we may have some work to do to get as many commissioners on board as possible.”
The $50,000 for the study would come from bond funds from a tax allocation district around the former Bibb Mill site on Coliseum Drive. The old cotton mill is the location of a tentative development that Reichert unveiled plans for in 2014. Those plans call for surrounding a new baseball stadium with restaurants, small hotels and a parking deck.
After failing to upgrade Luther Williams, Macon lost its Atlanta Braves’ affiliate in 2002 to Rome, which built a stadium for the team. Since then, Macon has been home to several other baseball teams -- the Macon Peaches, Macon Music and Macon Pinetoppers -- all of which had brief stays.
The vast experience of Brailsford & Dunlavey should provide an accurate take on whether baseball would be viable in Macon-Bibb, Commissioner Scotty Shepherd said.
One site for the stadium that should be examined, he said, is 80 acres in south Bibb County off Interstate 75 between Hartley Bridge and Sardis Church roads. That location might better attract people from Warner Robins, Perry, Cordele and other cities, Shepherd said.
“It would add to the growth that’s already going on,” he said. “I’m not saying that just because it’s in my territory, but it’s in a place to draw from a larger group of people.”
Meanwhile, another option to bringing baseball back to Macon has drawn the interest from some commissioners. On Sept. 25, the commissioner of the Coastal Plain League, with 16 franchises in four Southeast states, expressed interest in having a team play at Luther Williams Field.
Commissioners Al Tillman and Virgil Watkins said they wanted more information about the summer collegiate baseball league before voting on the feasibility study. Last week, Watkins and Tillman said they prefer seeing the vote on the study tabled Tuesday.
“I’m hopeful we’ll have more information related to that proposal,” Watkins said about the collegiate league. “I’m no baseball expert, but this seems like it’s something valid.”
Macon-Bibb County spokesman Chris Floore said the resolution was moving forward and there were no plans at the time for Reichert to contact the Coastal Plain commissioner to discuss the league.
Lucas said other local resources are available to determine if baseball is practical in Macon.
“We don’t need to spend $50,000 for someone to tell us to spend money on baseball when we’ve had studies and we have local people that could do the work for a whole lot less,” she said.
A CITY’S MINOR LEAGUE TRIUMPH
Like Macon, about a decade ago Greenville, South Carolina, also lost an Atlanta Braves affiliate when the city declined to pay for upgrades to its stadium.
However, Greenville was able to attract a new minor league team, the Greenville Drive, that plays in a 5,700-seat stadium surrounded by condominiums, office and retail space and restaurants. Greenville officials were adamant that anyone interested in bringing a team to the city would have to cover some of the project’s costs, and that it must be a mixed-used development, Greenville Mayor Knox White said Friday.
“Our situation had a very happy conclusion after many years of ups and down and lawsuits,” he said. “We got a team that moved here and built the stadium at their own expense, and that’s not easy to come by.”
There were several teams vying to move to Greenville, and some owners were scared away by having to pay for the project, White said.
The popular opinion in Greenville was to upgrade the stadium that was situated by the interstate, but the City Council wanted it to be downtown, White said.
The new stadium, built in 2006 to the tune of $15 million, has revitalized a section of downtown, he said.
“Had we just built a stadium by itself, it would not be (an economic) catalyst,” White said. “It would be like so many other sports facilities -- a dead zone. We had been to other cities and saw for ourselves that a well-situated downtown stadium can do great things.”
To contact writer Stanley Dunlap, call 744-4623 or find him on Twitter@stan_telegraph.