Charlotte mayor calls baseball move a "hard sell" | Sports & Recreation
CHARLOTTE, NC (Erik Spanberg, Charlotte Business Journal) - With the Charlotte Knights scheduled to make their pitch for taxpayer money this week, Mayor Anthony Foxx called the stadium a "hard sell."
The Knights are expected to ask for as much as $11 million from the city on Thursday during a presentation to the economic development committee.
Earlier this month, the minor league franchise unveiled a study by UNC Charlotte professor John Connaughton promising to double attendance, add hundreds of jobs and pump tens of millions of dollars into uptown if a new $55 million ballpark is built in Third Ward.
The team paid Connaughton an undisclosed sum to prepare the study.
With the Knights facing deadlines from Mecklenburg County calling for financing plans to be in place no later than June 30, the city would be hard-pressed to meet the aggressive schedule, the mayor said today. In addition, he expressed concern over investing in a baseball stadium at the expense of other, more pressing needs.
"I'm not very encouraged to have a deadline imposed on me by external factors," Foxx said. "When I take a look at things like this, I like to think about them from the standpoint of overall community benefit. And that has to be looked at through the lens of the fact that the city doesn't have a capital program right now, the fact that we have enormous amounts of infrastructure that need to get built all across the city. I'm not so sure that a step like this, at the moment, is as good of an idea as it might have been in the heyday of the economy 15 years ago."
Mecklenburg County, the city and private developers participated in a land swap in 2006 to provide the team with the 8-acre site targeted for the stadium. A series of lawsuits filed by real estate attorney Jerry Reese, combined with the financial crash of 2008, forced the Knights to delay plans several times on the project.
Last year, the county agreed to extend the team's $1 annual lease on the site, with several caveats. Terms included proof of enlisting two major corporate sponsors by the end of this month, lining up loans and financing arrangements by June 30 and starting construction by October. The stadium would open in 2014.
Team executives say a move uptown from the franchise's current home in York County would double attendance to 600,000 annually. Among the 14 International League clubs, the Knights rank last at the box office.
Assuming a construction cost of $55 million, an estimate the team made last year, the Knights would need to generate $47 million to build the stadium. Mecklenburg County has agreed to pay back $8 million to the team for upfront investments in improvements to sidewalks and streets surrounding the stadium site. Corporate naming rights, luxury suite leases and anticipated higher sponsorship revenue would account for some of the team's construction expenses.
In recent weeks, James Mitchell, the chair of the economic development committee and a Democratic council member, said he is open to considering an investment from the city of up to $11 million in the ballpark.
"Would I like to see baseball happen in Charlotte?" Foxx asked. "Absolutely. But when I balance it against other things we have in front of us, it's a hard sell right now. ... With what we've got on our plates and will likely have on our plates over the next several months trying to sort through how to move this community out of the worst recession in the last 70, 80 years, we're going to have to be real careful not to stub our toe along the way."