Augusta GreenJackets Have Big Plans
Jeff Eiseman has been on hand for the many stops and starts of the movement to build a new ballpark for the Augusta GreenJackets.
As a longtime vice president for Ripken Baseball, which purchased the South Atlantic League franchise in 2005, Eiseman was the point person for the GreenJackets' efforts to replace Lake Olmstead Stadium in downtown Augusta over the past six years. Each time a deal appeared within reach, however, a financial roadblock sank the project.
The GreenJackets are again on the verge of getting a much-needed new home, this time as part of a new $165 million mixed-use development that includes plans for a new $28 million ballpark in North Augusta, Ga. And Eiseman is again in the thick of the negotiations, this time with a soon-to-be-official new job title: team owner.
Eiseman and veteran minor league operator Chris Schoen are heading the Agon Sport & Entertainment investment group that has reached an agreement with Ripken Baseball to purchase the Augusta ballclub. The sale is pending review by the South Atlantic League, Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball, and Eiseman said he expects the purchase to be completed sometime this February.
The ballpark still has some local hurdles to clear before it is finalized but is "as close as we've been," Eiseman said. A tax increment financing district will need to be created to help generate local revenue for the project, which still needs final approval from the local city council.
Plans call for the ballpark to be built along the Savannah River as part of the Riverfront Center at Hammond's Ferry complex, which would include restaurants, retail, apartments, a hotel, offices, a conference center and parking. The city is slated to contribute roughly $43 million, and developers have promised $122 million for the hotel, residential and retail development. Though design work has yet to begin, Eiseman projects the ballpark to be completed in time for Opening Day 2015—20 years after the opening of Lake Olmstead Stadium.
"There has been a lot of development in stadium design in the last decade or so," Eiseman said. "We want to build a modern a venue. We want to create an intimate environment, a fan-friendly environment full of technology and creature comforts. It will be one of the nicer ballparks in the minors when all is said and done."
Both Eiseman and Schoen have experience in building such ballparks. Eiseman spent 11 years with Ripken Baseball, beginning in 2002 when he helped open Ripken Stadium as general manager for the Aberdeen IronBirds (New York-Penn). Schoen is a real estate developer who previously served as CEO of Hardball Capital, the investment group which owns the Fort Wayne TinCaps (Midwest) and Savannah Sand Gnats (South Atlantic). He played a key role in organizing the financing for Fort Wayne's Parkview Field, which is part of a similar mixed-use development and has been regarded as one of the best ballparks in the minors since opening in 2009.
"The riverfront offers extraordinary investment appeal as a sustainable addition to both North Augusta and Augusta," Schoen said in a release. "The proposed public-private investment . . . would create a pedestrian and live-work-play environment unequaled anywhere in the southeastern United States."
Ripken Baseball has owned the GreenJackets since purchasing the team from Mike and Jeff Savit in 2005. Ripken Baseball president and CEO Glenn Tilley said in a press release that the group's "focus is evolving and shifting more squarely to the youth market. As a result, it is time for a transition."
"We have built wonderful relationships in Augusta and want to see baseball succeed in the region," Cal Ripken Jr. said in the same release. "The way I see it, we aren't leaving Augusta, simply changing roles. Multi-purpose development along the river has always been exciting to me and I look forward to the success of our new ownership group."
Sprucing Up The Dell
One of the top venues in the minor leagues is getting a facelift this offseason.
The Dell Diamond, home of the Round Rock Express (Pacific Coast), is getting its first significant renovation as part of a 10-year naming-rights extension with Dell Inc. The ballpark originally opened in 2000.
"We'll call it Dell Diamond 2.0," Ryan-Sanders Baseball CEO Reid Ryan said.
The highlight of the project will be a new 100-by-43-foot high definition video scoreboard in left field that will be complemented by video panels along the right- and left-field walls. The team also is replacing some seating behind home plate with a VIP area that will include wait-staff service and will feature a drink-rail area.
The Express also plans to add a unique feature outside of the ballpark: a water tower beyond the right-field fence that is a replica of the one in downtown Round Rock. Ryan says the team plans to have it light up following Express victories.
So why is a team that is already one of the best draws in the minors sprucing up its ballpark?
"I am a big believer that you have to continue to reinvent yourself," Ryan said. "I get to a lot of other ballparks. I was in Durham for the Triple-A Championship game and (Durham Bulls Athletic Park) has continued to evolve. There are so many great parks that you have to continue to push the envelope and keep it fresh for your fans and staff as well."
Pelicans Find Their Leader
The Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Carolina) were left scrambling to find a new top executive when Scott Brown left in late November to become general manager of baseball operations for the Charlotte Knights (International), who are preparing to move into a new ballpark in 2014. Myrtle Beach found a veteran to replace him by tabbing Andy Milovich as its new GM.
Milovich, 43, had spent the past eight seasons as general manager for the West Virginia Power (South Atlantic) and was a vice president for the team's Palisades Baseball ownership group. He previously oversaw operations for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (New York-Penn) from 1999-2004 and Erie SeaWolves (Eastern) from 1997-98. He played a key role in launching new ballparks for both teams.
"The combination of the community, the ballpark, the location, (team owner) Chuck Greenberg and the Greenberg Sports Group—the combination was an opportunity I couldn't pass up," Milovich told the Myrtle Beach Sun News.
"We were very aggressive in pursuing him and we're excited he has decided to bring his family to the Grand Strand," Greenberg told the Sun News. "Andy has been one of the most respected operators for a long time and done a great job in multiple locations. For him to come here and follow up the great job Scotty did, we feel lucky like we just hit the lottery."