This round of stories started with Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin who talked to the State newspaper. As the State reports,
Mayor Steve Benjamin says he is in serious talks with a minor league baseball owner to bring a team to Columbia and could present a stadium funding proposal to City Council as early as this fall.
Benjamin told The State he plans to visit later this month a stadium that the undisclosed owner has built in the Midwest. It and its public/private funding model could serve as a template for a new stadium here, he said.
Ballpark Digest connected the dots and figured out that Benjamin is talking about the Gnats because the Gnats' ownership group built a new stadium in Fort Wayne, IN, the beautiful Parkview Field.
WSAV's Ken Slats spoke to Hardball Capital CEO Jason Freier, who did work to convince Savannah to help build a new ballpark. In 2011, Freier took key Savannah politicians, business leaders and media to Indiana to show them the new facility in Fort Wayne. However as Freier explained to Slats, "It would be fair to say that we have not received a lot of followup since then. Any attempts to move that project forward have not gone anyplace. We're told not because of any negative feelings about our proposed project, but because the city has lots of things they need to do and lots of priorities.
There's a follow up from Slats here.
In the Savannah Morning News, Savannah city spokeman Bret Bell says of Hardball Capital, "They had made it very clear they wanted a new stadium.” Meanwhile, the Morning News reports that "The city has not ruled out the idea of a multi-use stadium, but staff and council are now focused on getting a new arena built to replace the Civic Center, Bell said." And in fact, in the very same paper, there was a story about Council officials touring potential arena sites.
Lets be clear. There are many things that have to happen before Hardball Capital begins operating a South Atlantic League team in Columbia, SC. Just because one town, or the politicians in that town, wants affiliated baseball, does not mean they get their wish. Think all the way back to last November, when the Binghamton Mets were rumored to be moving to Ottowa. However, it seems as though it is real possibility that there will be SAL baseball in Columbia and not Savannah in 2015 with many pieces to fit into place in a hurry.
As far as the Mets are concerned, their PDC with the Gnats expires at the end of the 2014 season, just like the Gnats' stadium lease with Savannah. A new stadium in Columbia would be very attractive for the Mets and many other teams. The Mets had a SAL affiliate in Columbia, SC from 1983 through 2004 first as the Columbia Mets (1983-1992) and then the Capital City Bombers (1993-2004), who had this awesome logo.
(Full disclosure: I still call games for the Sand Gnats. All information in this post comes from publicly available news stories.)