When Tuesday’s afternoon public hearing gets underway, advocates of the potential baseball stadium will be hard-pressed to find council members ready to quickly approve contract negotiations with baseball investor Jason Freier.
With a large price tag for the stadium and a push to get a contract secured by the Feb. 4 council meeting — two weeks after the first public hearing — council will have to weigh the decision to finance a permanent fixture in downtown Columbia.
Rich Neumann and Jason Thompson of the consulting firm Brailsford & Dunlavey estimated that the cost of the stadium to be $42 million, which would include “soft costs” such as plan reviews, architect fees and other design and development costs.
Freier and Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin have insisted they could get that number down to $35 million, including those additional costs. They also have said that developer Bob Hughes has approved the donation of 10-12 acres as an incentive to build the stadium.
Benjamin said he has talked with Freier to try to cut a deal that would be advantageous to the city’s finances and would be far from the 80-20 split investment the feasibility study researchers proposed.
“His (Freier’s) suggestion is 50-50, mine is 60-40,” Benjamin said.
The city already has invested about $50 million in the initial agreement for the Bull Street Development with Hughes. Councilwoman Leona Plaugh also said the city is contractually obligated under the agreement to build two parking garages.
Jeff Palen, the city’s chief financial officer, said the two garages will cost about $10million to $12 million each, with infrastructure costs for water, sewer and roads totaling a little more than $31 million. Operating costs could run up to $42 million. All total, Palen said investment for the stadium and Bull Street could cost up to $93 million, though he said funding would be spread over a four- or five-year period in phases.
Palen also said the city originally found 17 funding sources for the whole development last July but since have gone back to look at additional options to cover the stadium. Some of those sources will include GO bonds, hospitality bonds, installment purchases and cash for some items. Palen said it could be done without increasing taxes.
“There’s not going to be one item to pay for everything. We’ll have to pull different items to pay for everything,” Palen said.
Plaugh said that while she thinks the city is in good financial standing, she doesn’t think the city’s budget can’t sustain every potential project.
“There is a perception we can be everything to everybody. We are not a wealthy community,” she said.
Councilman Moe Baddourah, who hosted Thursday’s community meeting on the feasibility study, said he wanted to get a five-year outlook on potential revenue for the city. The feasibility study, however, did not address that specific issue.
Plaugh said that even if council approved negotiations, she thought a professional, independent individual should lead the talks to limit bias and get the best deal.
“Anytime you negotiate, you’ve got to be able to walk away,” Plaugh said. “We cannot be so wed to something that when we negotiate we cannot walk away.”
Baddourah’s meeting, which occurred at the same time as Benjamin’s community forum to introduce Jason Freier — ruffled the feathers of the mayor who characterized it as being done intentionally.
Baddourah explained at the meeting that he did it because he knew Tuesday’s public hearing was scheduled at a time when most people would not be able to attend.
There are also the two presentations offering different perspectives of what a baseball stadium could mean for Columbia. Neumann and Thompson’s study was requested by council and includes potential cost estimates for construction as well as revenue that could be generated.
Freier, on the other hand, has spent the past few weeks speaking to community members at various meetings scheduled by the mayor’s office. In these meetings, Freier has presented his own perspective of a future ballpark and lauded the success of his Fort Wayne, Ind. project: Parkview Stadium.
Council will contend with a reluctant public and hopeful mayor Tuesday to determine if baseball soon will return to Columbia.