The Mobile City Council’s Finance Committee voted Wednesday to recommend approval of nearly $500,000 to fund improvements to Hank Aaron Stadium.
Committee Chairman Joel Daves and member Fred Richardson voted in favor of the move, while Bess Rich abstained.
During a regular City Council meeting Tuesday a full council vote was held over for a week, but the issue will be back on the agenda Jan. 20. The administration is seeking council approval to transfer $464,649.57 remaining from a completed project at McCants Chavers Park and use it for a new lighting system, upgrades to the audio system and for the installation of field rail padding at the 17-year-old home of the Mobile BayBears. The light upgrades would cost an estimated $350,000, Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s Chief of Staff Colby Cooper said.
Rich had concerns over back rent the BayBears owed for use of the city-owned stadium. By contract, the rent is $100,000 a year, Cooper said, paid quarterly. The club hasn’t been current on rent since September 2013, but the city has been in negotiations with the club since new General Manager Chris Morgan took over in August.
Rich also asked if the lighting was, in fact, over and above what the city would normally have installed in a city park. City Attorney Ricardo Woods said the lighting has to meet Major League Baseball specifications.
Rich also asked the administration for a list of priorities at other parks. Cooper said that a “robust parks plan” was in the works and that the administration would work with council on it going forward.
Richardson, who said he had no problem with the transfer, called the BayBears an attraction that gets residents “out of their homes” to spend money in the city.
“That’s how we make our money,” Richardson said. “It’s something that gets people out.”
Daves supported the transfer because “a city our size needs to have a baseball park.”
He said the administration has done a “remarkable job” of managing expenses and it “gives me a lot of trust.”
The administration’s plan also calls for funding for stadium improvements next year, which would include a new drainage system. Executive Director of Finance Paul Wesch said those improvements would be included in the 2016 capital budget.