News Columns & Blogs

Chuck Williams: A 'For Sale' sign at Golden Park?

By CHUCK WILLIAMS

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.com

View from home plate inside Golden Park on Monday afternoon.
View from home plate inside Golden Park on Monday afternoon.

The time has come to look at the old lady and admit she is long past her prime. No one is going to ask her to dance, and it is false hope to think that someone will.

What are we talking about? Golden Park.

The 65-year-old baseball stadium tucked nicely into the northwest corner of the South Commons, has not been home to a professional baseball team since 2008 when the South Atlantic League affiliate pulled out. A year later, a college wooden-bat league team played a season in the stadium, but that didn’t take.

It was more like a last fling.

“We can get minor league baseball back in Columbus, but they aren’t going to play at Golden Park,” said Columbus Councilor Glenn Davis.

He should know. He played as a Houston Astros farmhand in Golden Park during the early 1980s on his way to a 10-year Major League career. His name is on the board of notables who played there, two below Willie Mays and just ahead of Don Mattingly.

So what do you do with a 5,000-seat baseball park that has outlived its usefulness?

Sell it?

That is a possibility, a very real one. Golden Park’s market value is $4.13 million, according to the Muscogee County Tax Assessor’s records.

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said as the city wrestles with tightening budgets, city officials are looking at the city’s land holdings.

“It is time to take a look at all of our public land holdings,” Tomlinson said.

And she means a long, hard look, which will happen as the city’s fiscal 2017 budget takes shape in April, May and June.

“Any public property could have a ‘For Sale’ sign on it,” Tomlinson said.

And if you need to start selling city property, it makes sense to start with one that isn’t being used located on a prime tract of riverfront real estate.

Let’s be clear, the focus for today is Golden Park because it’s essentially vacant — at least if one believes a baseball park should be used for baseball — as another season approaches. But this is a broader and deeper discussion, one that will play out in the coming months.

Ten years ago, you would have been run out of town for suggesting that the city sell Golden Park. You might be today, but it is certainly an idea that should be put forth.

Golden Park, opened in 1951 and the home of farm teams for the Cardinals, Yankees, Astros and Indians to name a few, has great sentimental value to some. After all, that very site has been a baseball field since 1926. When the world came to visit Georgia in 1996, Golden Park got dressed up and served as the venue of the Olympic softball competition.

The glory days, however, seem to be over.

It costs the city about $300,000 annually to maintain it, Davis said. And that’s for some high school and college games.

The last really good player to suit up there was San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey, who did an offseason shoe commercial shoot inside the park a couple of years ago.

It simply isn’t used. And you know the end is near when someone like Davis, who has professional and family history at the park, says he is willing to consider options. He wants to make it clear, he is championing the idea because the place means something to him. Davis met his wife, Teresa, at Golden Park.

“You have to come to grips with the fact that we are never going to use Golden Park for minor league baseball again,” Davis said. “It is not going to happen.”

So what do you do with it? Maybe you could turn it into an outdoor concert venue. Only problem with that is it will cost money, easily more than $1 million to do it right.

Maybe, just maybe, the city needs to talk about that “For Sale” sign. And it sounds like that conversation is coming, like a high and tight fastball.

  Comments