The City of Columbia has reached a deal with a developer that could lead to apartments and retail at the old Capital City Stadium site on South Assembly Street.
The city owns the stadium and nearly six acres at 301 S. Assembly, which was, for decades, home to minor league baseball. However, there has not been baseball at the stadium for a number of years, and the city has sought to redevelop the land.
Georgia development company Bright Myers long had a contract to purchase the property — a contract that was previously extended 11 times — but multiple plans for redevelopment, including an infamous attempt at bringing in a Walmart, fell through.
Now Bright Myers has conveyed its contract for the property to Weddle Real Estate Developments, and Columbia City Council on June 18 voted to extend the agreement for the 12th time, under the auspices that the new developer will pursue a mixed-use development on the property, to include market rate apartments and 25,000 square feet of retail.
Council’s June 18 vote to extend the agreement was 6-1, with District 3 Councilman Moe Baddourah voting “no.” The deadline for Weddle to close on the property is May 1, 2020.
In the agreement, the city agrees to sell the property to the developer for roughly $1.65 million. There are a host of conditions in the deal, including that $60,000 will go to Historic Columbia “for the specific purpose of funding a documentary of Capital City Stadium, as well as site preparation and event staffing for an on-site ‘last tour’ event before the demolition” of the ballpark.
Earlier this year, the city said it planned to demolish the old stadium. However, with this agreement, the developers would have it demolished after purchase, allowing them to take advantage of the state’s abandoned building tax credit.
City officials say the abandoned building tax credit could be worth several million dollars for the South Assembly Street site, depending on how many separate structures are on the property. There would be a certification process to determine how many individual buildings are there.
On June 18, Mayor Steve Benjamin nodded at the long journey to get the South Assembly Street site redeveloped. Talks have dragged on for nearly a decade.
“We have an intense desire to get this done judiciously, collaboratively and in the spirit of good cooperation,” Benjamin said. “Let’s make it happen ASAP.”
Weddle will reportedly also seek a property tax break from Richland County Council.
Company partner Andrew Weddle noted in a statement emailed to Free Times that, among other things, the firm has agreed to help address flooding issues on the low-lying South Assembly Street site, and affirmed that he’s eyeing market rate apartments and “neighborhood” retail.
“Capital City Stadium is such an iconic location for many Columbia residents,” Weddle said. “I want to thank City Council for their support in allowing us to offer new and exciting opportunities to the neighborhood and residents in the area.”
At-large Councilman Howard Duvall says he’s pleased to reach an extension for the development of the old ballpark site, though he “wishes the negotiations would have been a little bit easier.” He says addressing drainage and flooding were high on his list for a revamp of the site.
“It is in a floodplain,” Duvall tells Free Times. “It has an impact on anything lower, and, in fact, it has an impact all the way to Five Points, because if water gets clogged up down in the ballpark area, it gets backed up down in the Five Points area.”
Baddourah says he had a couple reasons for casting the lone “no” vote on the recent contract extension for the old ballpark.
For one, he says that some neighbors near the stadium site have long wanted a grocery store in that area, rather than more apartments in a city that has seen a plethora of housing developments in recent years.
Of course, the prospect of a grocery store has long been part of the Capital City Stadium site talks, but those talks have failed again and again.
There was once talk of putting a Walmart on the property near the South Carolina State Fairgrounds. But the community backlash against that idea was ferocious. The opposition to the Walmart was fueled, at least in part, by the Occupy Columbia protests on the State House grounds in late 2011.
The Walmart idea was scrapped, and eventually gave way to a plan to locate a Kroger grocery store on the ballpark site. The Kroger plan appeared to be gaining steam in 2016, as a key rezoning for the site was approved by the city.
However, in 2017 Kroger backed out, with city officials citing a “setback” in that company’s profits the previous budget year and heated competition from Walmart and others as a reason for the pullout.
Baddourah also notes that, after previously extending its contract with Bright Myers 11 times over nearly a decade, he thought the city should have started over in marketing the property.
“This discussion has been going on for eight years,” Baddourah says. “We had done a number of extensions. … I didn’t feel like I wanted to wait anymore. I was ready to take a chance at putting it on the market and seeing what other, new people might try to do.”
Capital City Stadium was initially built in 1927 and was host to a number of minor league and other teams throughout the years, including the Columbia Mets, who later became the Capital City Bombers in the 1990s. The most recent regular tenant of the park was the Columbia Blowfish, a wood bat summer collegiate squad.
The Blowfish last played at Capital City Stadium in 2014. Since then the summer collegiate squad has moved to Lexington County, where it plays in Lexington County Baseball Stadium, which opened in 2015 on Ballpark Road.
Historic Columbia Executive Director Robin Waites tells Free Times she thinks it will be important to note the history of the stadium via a documentary, and hopes some of the interviews for that doc can be performed during an as-yet-unscheduled final tour event at the ballpark.
“There is a story to tell there,” Waites says. “We don’t want to lose the site entirely without having done the proper documentation. … There are all kinds of stories there that are associated with the history of our community that plays out on the field, whether it’s segregated spaces or how these kinds of places can bring people together but also pull them apart.
“There are lots of things to tease out of that that people probably already know, but, we’re looking to uncover some of the more nuanced and hidden stories of that space.”