The Boise Hawks’ new ownership group, Agon Sports and Entertainment, came into Boise last fall well aware of the club’s desire for a new stadium.
But despite years of resistance, the group has a plan for a new tactic, one it has successfully pulled off in Fort Wayne, Ind., and another nearing a groundbreaking in Augusta, Ga.
Both projects feature a ballpark as the central part of a mixed-use development that includes hotels, restaurants, conference centers, office space and residential housing — projects that brought in enough private development revenue to convince local governments to chip in.
“That’s really what I think separates our group is we’re solution oriented,” said Jeff Eiseman, president of Agon Sports and Entertainment. “We’re not looking to be a drag on the taxpayers. This isn’t about going to the taxpayers and saying, ‘Hey, we want to raise property taxes and build us a baseball stadium.’ This is coming up with a solution.
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“The previous solutions that the team had under previous ownerships was ‘we’ll commit to a long-term lease and pay X dollars a year to rent a facility.’ We’re not looking at that. We’re looking at it like we want to solve how we build this thing.
“We don’t want this to really be a the burden on the backs of taxpayers. We want to build a private development that accomplishes so much more than just the facility.”
Eiseman said details are far from settled for a new stadium in Boise. But he said Agon plans to follow a similar blueprint in Boise that it has established in Fort Wayne and Augusta.
Chris Schoen, co-owner of the Hawks, previously led the construction of Parkview Field for the Low-A Fort Wayne TinCaps as the CEO of Hardball Capital. The stadium anchored the $120 million Harrison Square project that featured a $30 million baseball stadium — with Hardball contributing $5 million — built and owned by the city on the condition of the surrounding private development.
The city didn’t use any general funds for the project, instead relying on taxing districts dedicated to downtown redevelopment.
Approved in 2007, Parkview Field opened in 2009 with a seating capacity of 8,100, 16 suites and a center-field amphitheater. Baseball America rated it the No. 5 ballpark in all of minor league baseball in May.
Delays for some of the private development frayed local nerves during the recession. But the Harrison Square development today includes a 250-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel, a 5,000-square foot conference center and a 900-space parking garage, as well as residential, retail and office space on nearly 15 acres.
Agon’s plans for a mixed-use project for the Low-A Augusta GreenJackets hit a snag when North Augusta homeowner Stephen Donohue sued the city in 2013 over the project, dragging the case all the way to the state supreme court.
But the court ruled the project and the taxing district that financed the $183 million project valid on June 17, allowing Eiseman to predict an opening date of 2017.
Project Jackson includes a stadium with the same additional developments — hotel, conference center, condos and retail and office space — as Fort Wayne with $125 million in private investment and $58 million in public money on 25 acres along the Savannah River.
Eiseman said the conclusion of the legal challenge means Agon should break ground this fall in Augusta and can turn some of its attention toward Boise.
“I don’t have a timetable for when we’ll get going here,” he said. “But my gut tells me we still have a window to be open in June of ’17 here. But the window is closing. So I’m probably more optimistic for ’18. But I think this will all come to fruition in 2018 based on where we’re at today.”
WHY NOT JUST BUILD A STADIUM?
Eiseman said the benefits of a mixed-use development come from the ability to attract other private development. A stadium that only housed baseball wouldn’t draw developers seeking to add hotels, apartments or office space, construction that adds to the tax base and government coffers.
Eiseman estimated a baseball stadium with theater-style seating, suites, video displays and a wrap-around concourse would cost $30-$40 million. A mixed-use development could bring the project total to more than $150 million with the promise of more tax revenue to repay government bonds.
“The team’s funding mechanisms are working through the private development organizations to build the infrastructure that goes around it that helps create the bonding capacities to help build those kind of things,” Eiseman said. “That’s private development. You’re talking about $150, $170 million of private development, private development that helps fund that bonding mechanism.”
Eiseman said he’s met with private developers and city leaders — declining to name who — as they try to fit the project into the building boom downtown.
But he cautioned a lot of details in the project still remain up in the air, including exactly how it will be paid for and a site.
“There are obviously places that we are looking at and some we like more than others,” he said. “But ultimately, we’re going to go with something that I think the community will be like, ‘That makes a lot of sense.’ ”