Many teams have entered -- and left -- South Carolina markets over the last three decades, with cities like Florence, Greenwood, Sumter, Anderson and Columbia losing affiliated teams, while new stadiums have been built in Myrtle Beach, Greenville and Charleston. One more Palmetto State town (Fort Mill) will lose their club after 2013, with the Charlotte Knights, the top affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, making the 18-mile, one state move to a new home in Charlotte's Third Ward. This will again leave South Carolina with three teams in Minor League Baseball, but apparently not for long.
If all goes according to plan, South Carolina will add a fourth team after a one-year hiatus, as the class-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, the Augusta GreenJackets, have announced plans to relocate across the Savannah River to North Augusta, South Carolina. The new ballpark for the GreenJackets is slated to open 20 years after the opening of the team's current facility, Lake Olmstead Stadium. The team's website states that the move will take place as part of the team's sale from Ripken Baseball to a group of Georgia and South Carolina-based buyers, Agon Sports and Entertainment.
WAGT-TV in Augusta reports that the new ballpark will be part of a "live-work-play" environment along the Savannah River. This environment, named the Hammond's Ferry Riverfront Center, will feature at least one hotel, apartments, townhomes, restaurants, offices, meeting areas and shops surrounding the new ballpark. The entire project will cost approximately $150 million, with the financing being a mix of public and private funds. The new ownership team states that they want to pay homage to their new and current homes with the team's branding, as well. "Obviously we want to honor North Augusta and Aiken County, but this is the Augusta GreenJackets. And this region is the Augusta metro region, so for us, no. We are looking at remaining the Augusta GreenJackets. We will probably do some things that incorporate North Augusta and South Carolina into it," said Jeff Eiseman, the leader of the new ownership group.
New ballparks are certainly all the rage in markets large and small around the country, and Augusta appears to be following the trend. The GreenJackets were firmly in the middle of the South Atlantic League in attendance in 2012, drawing 182,124 fans (2,846 average per date) over 64 dates. This attendance number has been reasonably consistent over the last three years, with the club averaging around 3,000 per date in their stadium that seats just over 4,800. As with most clubs making the move to downtown environments, the hope is that more fans will venture to the park after work, shopping or other errands. The proposed new stadium on the South Carolina side of the river sounds beautiful, with views of Augusta's downtown and the Savannah River behind the outfield wall, but it also leaves behind the scenic park setting in which Lake Olmstead Stadium currently resides. Check back in 2015 for more on how South Carolinians -- and Georgians, for that matter -- respond to the new home of the GreenJackets.