In a 5-4 vote, the Macon-Bibb County Commission on Tuesday narrowly approved spending $50,000 for a study to determine if the city can support a baseball team.
The commission vote essentially hires a Washington, D.C.-based firm to complete a market analysis and economic feasibility study. The close decision came after an attempt to send the resolution back to committee did not receive enough votes.
Brailsford & Dunlavey, which has experience in 50-plus ballpark projects, said once it starts on the study, it will take about 10 weeks to complete.
Voting against the measure were commissioners Bert Bivins, Elaine Lucas, Al Tillman and Virgil Watkins.
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Mayor Robert Reichert, who sponsored the resolution, said after Tuesday’s meeting that he is excited the study will move forward. Brailsford & Dunlavey will provide a “candid assessment” of whether a new baseball team will work in Macon-Bibb.
“Part of the reason we selected this particular firm is because of the depth of their connections, associations and familiarity with minor league baseball,” he said.
Prior to voting in favor of the resolution, Commissioner Larry Schlesinger asked to move the measure back to committee so the firm could meet with officials to “dispel some of the concern that’s out there.”
That motion failed to pass, and commissioners then approved hiring the firm.
Tuesday’s debate over whether to spend money on the study began in the pre-commission meeting before spilling over to the regular meeting.
Watkins said he wanted to wait until the county commission could talk with the commissioner of a summer collegiate baseball league about his wishes to have a team play in Macon. Two weeks ago the commissioner of the Coastal Plain League emailed Macon-Bibb leaders to say the league had interest in coming to Luther Williams Field.
“We have a company that would at least like to talk with us about locating here,” Watkins said. “If our goal is to bring baseball here, (then) I think we’ve attracted a team.”
Commissioner Ed DeFore said he didn’t see any problem with investigating whether professional baseball should come back to Bibb County.
“A lot of people are interested in it,” he said in the pre-commission meeting. “If we can do it, we do it, and if we can’t, we can’t.”
Lucas railed against spending $50,000 on a baseball study, stating there were other methods to determine the viability of a team in Macon. She also said it makes the officials look bad when money is being spent on the study while other services are being neglected.
“We have piles of dry leaves piling up in our neighborhoods,” Lucas said. “That’s what folks are looking at.”
The $50,000 for the study would come from bond funds that are part of the tax allocation district around the former Bibb Mill site. 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.
In 2002, Macon lost its Atlanta Braves farm team to Rome when that city agreed to build a $15 million stadium for the team. Since then, Macon has been home to several other lower-tiered baseball teams -- the Macon Peaches, Macon Music and Macon Pinetoppers -- all of which had brief runs.
In other business Tuesday:
A group of retirees under the Macon Fire and Police Pension Plan will begin receiving an additional $100 a month in benefits. Commissioners approved bumping supplemental benefits from $100 to $200 a month for some members of the Macon Fire and Police Employees Retirement System.
The additional benefits will go to employees hired prior to July 1, 1985, and who have at least 25 years of service.
Filmore Thomas Park is on track to be completed after three resolutions were passed Tuesday. The agreements are for spending $1.75 million on a splash pad, playground and other improvements.
Commissioners approved $150,000 to be spent on streetscape and right of way improvements along Eisenhower Parkway and another $40,000 to assist remediation at Henry Burns Park.
Commissioners Tillman and Gary Bechtel will split the money from their blight bond funds. The improvements would take place along the Middle Georgia Education Corridor Business Improvement District and at the park.
The Bibb County Sheriff’s Office will use $66,240 from a federal grant to help purchase body cameras and to support the county’s drug court program.
To contact writer Stanley Dunlap, call 744-4623 or find him on Twitter