Baseball stadium project on track; team to start hiring
BY CHRIS COX
Though it may not look like much now, construction on the minor league baseball stadium at Columbia Common is still on schedule, with significant bids on portions of the project expected next week.
“We have a huge hole in the ground,” said Hardball Capital CEO Jason Freier, “and a big pile of dirt next to it.”
Freier met with Columbia City Council Tuesday afternoon to update progress on Spirit Communications Park, which is expected to be ready in time for opening day in April 2016. Though no club, team name or colors have been chosen, palpable decisions can already be seen.
Builders and developers have invested in a training program for workers to help lay foundation, sheet rock and other skills trades, Mayor Steve Benjamin said. The four-week program, which has already graduated over 30 students, has seen participants ranging from the homeless and housing authority members to underemployed workers and those transitioning from careers.
“We’re teaching people how to fish,” he said. “And it’s a very exciting initiative.”
Baseball operations hiring is expected to start by the end of the summer, with 12 to 15 employees with industry experience coming from outside of the area and another 15-18 coming from the local market. Hardball Capital moved its first full-time employee to the area in January, with three others joining in the next couple months.
Part-time and seasonal hiring will begin in less than a year, he said, with upward of 550 people expected to join. The number is similar to Hardball Capital’s Fort Wayne, Ind., ballpark.
“What we’re trying to do is have a group of people who really understand the industry and how we like to run our business, (and they) teach that to the local people,” Freier said. “And to have some local people come in and teach our people about the city of Columbia, the region and that sort of thing.”
And though no surrounding businesses have been announced yet for the $37 million multiuse sport and entertainment venue, Freier said his company has had discussions with numerous prospects curious about the relationship.
They have been sent over from Bob Hughes, the master developer of the project. Hughes is also constructing the first building razed on the site, called First Base, which will likely house restaurants or sports bars.
“He thinks this is something that’s going to attract businesses and residents, office people and retail on to the site,” Freier said. “So there have been numerous times where they have requested us to speak with people, send information, give an overview of sorts of what’s happened in Fort Wayne or other cities.
“This is sort of the attraction to get the ball rolling on the site.”
Plans call for the domed Babcock building on the Bull Street campus to be repurposed as a hotel and conference center and for turning the property into a community of hopes, shops, offices and hiking trails. The city has committed to build two parking decks with a total of 1,600 spaces while the development is also permitted for up to 3,500 residential units.
The 20-year build out of the development is expected to support 11,000 new jobs and produce $581 million in labor income annually, according to an economic impact study conducted by Miley & Associates Inc.