From Nicholas B. Reese of Augusta, GA:
I know there has been a lot of discussion recently in Aberdeen regarding mayor Micheal Bennett’s trip to Augusta, GA on behalf of Ripken Baseball. So I thought it may be helpful to write in to provide the perspective of someone from Augusta. As you may be aware, Ripken Baseball also owns a minor league baseball team down here called The Augusta GreenJackets. For the past 5 years there has been a proposal to build a new stadium for the team, supposedly in downtown, to replace the 16 year old ballpark at Lake Olmstead. Though many people agree that a brand new stadium would be nice, as would many shiny new amenities, most people are against using public money to build a new stadium, especially when the current one appears to be more than adequate. In fact, a Democratic straw poll just last year showed that over %77 of respondents were against using any public money to build a new stadium and numerous media polls have reflected that sentiment.
Still, despite the overwhelming opposition from the public, our mayor Copenhaver and Ripken Baseball officials continue to push for the stadium and even try to label anyone who opposes using tax money to build it as anti progress or “against everything.” That’s simply not true. We are just against the city of Augusta, which is struggling financially with yearly budget shortfalls, going into further debt over an unneeded ballpark.
I also believe the sales pitch for the stadium has been based on mostly false information. From the beginning, claims have been made that revenues from the stadium would more than cover the city’s cost, and that it would spur adjacent development like condos, retail and a hotel.
So it was quite interesting to learn from a 2007 Baltimore Sun article by Justin Fenton, that Aberdeen was losing hundreds of thousands on dollars on Ripken Stadium and most of the expected adjacent development that was supposed to compensate the taxpayers had stalled or was cancelled. From reviewing the facts, it seemed quite obvious that the city of Aberdeen made a very one-sided financial deal with Ripken Baseball. A group of concerned citizens brought this information to the attention of public officials here in Augusta, so that this city could hopefully avoid making a similarly bad financial deal.
So it was quite surprising when your mayor Bennett made a trip down here to Augusta with Ripken Baseball officials (at their expense) to essentially say that none of that was true. That Aberdeen had not been losing money on the stadium, and that those of us who were saying this were spreading rumors. But the facts say otherwise. Even the most current budget for Aberdeen shows that the city is still taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from the general fund to service stadium debt, and the vast majority of the promised adjacent real-estate development has not materialized.
So for mayor Bennett to come down here at the behest of a company with which Aberdeen has a financial relationship and white-wash the facts and try to discredit those of us who have been trying to get whole story out there is disingenuous at best and outright dishonest at worst. It is certainly not my place to tell the people of Aberdeen who to vote for in your upcoming mayoral election, but I will leave you with this: Shouldn’t the taxpayers expect their public officials to work for them and not as a lobbyist for a private company that does business with the city? Shouldn’t the public expect honesty and forthrightness from their public servants instead of political spin and obfuscation of the truth? That is for you to decide, but I know what my answers would be if I were in your shoes.
Nicholas B. Reese