Politics & Government

More interest develops in baseball team, urban ballpark for Macon

Mayor Robert Reichert wants to see if Macon-Bibb County can support a professional baseball team again.

A proposed resolution, backed by the mayor’s office, seeks a feasibility study of whether a Major League Baseball affiliate could be landed and what kind of facilities and public investment it would take to do that. The resolution is headed to the Macon-Bibb County Commission’s Economic & Community Development Committee for discussion Tuesday.

One factor a study would consider is a plan unveiled in November for a baseball stadium development on the Bibb Mill Centre site in east Macon between the Macon Marriott City Center and Ocmulgee National Monument. The 24-acre tract next to Interstate 16 is owned by Earl Barrs, who has said his site should be included in any study, Macon-Bibb spokesman Chris Floore said.

“That’s the one we think might be the best,” Floore said.

But the study could say another location is preferable, such as the 11-acre Riverside Drive tract that was the one-time site for a major mixed-use development known as Renaissance on the River. It fell through after soil contamination was revealed, Floore said.

A tax allocation district that includes the Bibb Mill Centre site is expected to pay part of the study’s estimated $45,000 cost, Floore said. But for now, the resolution only endorses sending out a request for proposals -- known as an RFP -- for someone to produce the study.

Barrs, head of Due South Investments LLC, said he looks forward to seeing development improve east Macon. But a decision on developing a baseball park at the Bibb Mill Centre site has not been made, he said.

“We’re just kind of waiting to see where the RFP lands,” Barrs said.

The resolution notes the Macon Braves, Macon Music, Macon Peaches and Macon Pinetoppers baseball teams have all come and gone. The Braves, a single-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves, left for Rome in 2002 after an 11-year run “due to a lack of improvements” at then-73-year-old Luther Williams Field.

Floore said it wasn’t always a lack of attendance that brought Macon teams down. And the recent success of Mercer University’s baseball and football teams, plus the Atlanta Braves’ impending move to the north side of Atlanta, may improve Macon’s chances.

“We believe that we have the audience here for a sporting venue,” Floore said.

The Braves will no longer be an easy drive away, and Macon would seek a major league farm team that wouldn’t be dependent on other minor-league teams for its survival, he said. But officials don’t want to act based on their beliefs alone, Floore said.

“We would be looking to what comes from the study on what steps need to happen,” he said.

Reichert made a surprise announcement of the concept plan for the Bibb Mill Centre site in November. It shows a 5,500-seat ballpark with two nearby hotels, several restaurants, a parking deck and a crosswalk from the Marriott.

Designer Zan Thompson was asked to come up with a plan that would fit the site, Reichert said then. Development there could be funded by bonds based on the tax allocation district’s expected revenue. A plan that commissioners approved late last year included $500,000 for development planning on the Bibb Mill site.

Barrs bought the Bibb Mill site for $1 million in 1997 and cleared most of the old cotton mill that was there. One three-story, brick building remains, which the concept plan indicates would be kept and redeveloped.

In 2004, Barrs was in talks with the former Macon city government about building a convention hotel there. Instead officials opted to build the Marriott across Coliseum Drive, directly attached to the Macon Coliseum and Convention Center.

Barrs last week declined to comment on whether a ballpark at Bibb Mill Centre would require public funding.

The Bibb Mill site is abutted by two other development plans: a new entrance to Ocmulgee National Monument -- which is seeking an upgrade to national park status -- and creation of an “arts village.”

The Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority is buying land for the new Ocmulgee entrance, which would generally follow the current Clinton Street coming off Coliseum Drive.

“We have most of it,” said Alex Morrison, executive director of the authority. The landscaped, more-visible entrance to Ocmulgee National Monument would complement any Bibb Mill development and the arts village, he said.

“The hope is that they buoy each other, but they are not contingent on each other,” Morrison said.

Some publicly funded infrastructure likely would go to the Bibb Mill site, but nothing has gone beyond a general concept plan, he said.

The Macon Arts Alliance has proposed creating the Mill Hill East Macon Arts Village northeast of Clinton Street. In December, Macon-Bibb commissioners endorsed the idea of creating space for artists to live and to display and sell their work. The alliance is seeking a National Endowment for the Arts grant of $100,000 to $200,000, requiring an equal local match.

“We are to hear from that July 1,” Jan Beeland, executive director of the Macon Arts Alliance, said.

Even before that, though, plans for the arts village are proceeding. The Urban Development Authority has bought several small houses on nearby streets for the project, Beeland said.

“It’s moving along,” she said.

Beeland has seen the concept plan for the Bibb Mill ballpark, and while nearby development would be helpful, the arts village doesn’t depend on it, she said.

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