Sand Gnats Baseball Leaving Savannah? - Local news, weather, sports Savannah | WSAV On Your Side

Exclusive New Details: Sand Gnats Baseball Considers Move

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SAVANNAH, GA -

Media outlets in Columbia, South Carolina say the owners of the Savannah Sand Gnats could be in early negotiations to move the team out of Savannah and into the Palmetto State.

WSAV Sports just spoke with the team's owner who says he can "cannot confirm nor deny the published reports" about the negotiations. The owner, with Hardball Capital, says the team's lease on Grayson Stadium expires in 2014 and the team has been presented with "numerous offers" to relocate over the years. City officials tell a slightly different story. 

Video above: WSAV traveled with city leaders in 2012 in Indiana where they toured a new stadium built for a sister team of the Sand Gnats.

Savannah City Officials, speaking on the topic, say the city's focus is to build an arena, not a new baseball stadium. Leaders have discussed the idea in the past, and say they 'very much' want to keep the team in Savannah. Sources admit, the owners of the team have made it clear that a new stadium is key to keeping the team in Savannah. Leaders say the current lease with the Sand Gnats at Grayson Stadium extends through the 2015 season, at a cost of $25,000 per year. 

City officials traveled with team ownership in 2012 to Indiana to explore a recently built stadium. 

The Savannah Chamber Of Commerce issued this statement to WSAV:

"It would be a shame to see them go, but we understand the difficulty that Grayson Stadium faces providing a truly competitive baseball experience when compared to facilities in other communities," said Bill Hubbard, president of the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce.

"If Grayson could be preserved and the Sand Gnats could compete in a new, truly multi-use facility, and it was affordable, we would have the best of all worlds" Hubbard went on to say. "In this case, we could preserve their legacy while providing a first-class event experience for our community."

City officials tell News 3 "The Gnats wanted Savannah River Landing, which is being considered for the new civic center. In that location, the Gnats were prepared to spend $500,000 a year on rent, paid to the city.

They also wanted a 35 million dollar commitment from the city. The project was being spearheaded by former City Manager, Rochelle Small-Toney, but now with the new city manager, the civic center has taken top priority.

Councilwoman Mary Ellen Sprague, went on the trip (to tour additional stadiums) to view possible designs for a new stadium. She says the Sand Gnats are a wonderful part of our community and Daffin Park, but there is no way they can commit that kind of money to a new stadium when our civic center is no out of date and in poor shape." 

BallPark Digest.com cites The State Newspaper in saying: "Mayor Steve Benjamin wasn't too subtle in describing a potential baseball partner for his city, leaving little doubt he was talking with Savannah Sand Gnats (Low Class A; Sally League) ownership about a new facility.

In a newspaper interview, Benjamin talked about the existing owner also owning a new team in the Midwest League, built with a private/public partnership in the last few years. Now, there aren't too existing owners who built new ballparks in the Midwest League in recent years. That, of course, would be Parkview Field, home of the Fort Wayne TinCaps, an amazing achievement pulled off by Hardball Capital, which owns both the Gnats and TinCaps. (The interest in Sand Gnats management was confirmed by three other MiLB owners.)

Logically, the Sand Gnats are the only ream available for a move. We've been told for league travel balance teams won't be allowed to move out of their geographic areas. Moving Hagerstown to Columbia, for example, just ain't gonna happen -- and besides, they're talking new ballpark with Fredericksburg. Savannah to Columbia keeps the league geographic structure intact.

Right now there's a lot of baseball talk in Columbia, complicated by the fact that the city never actually sold Capital City Stadium to a developer -- nope, no Wal-Mart on sacred baseball grounds any time soon -- but no matter, as the city wants to move on a new development:

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.

The stadium would be the centerpiece of the redeveloped 181-acre State Hospital campus on Bull Street, considered to be the most significant land deal in the city's modern history. Bull Street developer Bob Hughes of Greenville has said a stadium is a key to the development's success."

WSAV.com is working closely with local sources and reporters in Columbia to bring you more information about this possible move.

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