Wilmington City Council Will Explore Baseball Bond Referendum

Jun 20, 2012

Last night, Wilmington City Council voted on matters from next  year's budget to approving money to improve sidewalks and roads. 

But as WHQR's Sara Wood reports, most of the attention at the lengthy meeting was devoted to minor league baseball.

To continue in the spirit of using baseball puns to describe this story, the stands weren't entirely packed last night. First up at bat, $355,000. Councilwoman Laura Padgett's vote was the only dissenting, all other council members voted in favor of using this money for further baseball negotiations. Padgett says she's not opposed to having funds available if the council so chooses to use them, but says she didn't want to make a public commitment of the money at this particular moment.

 “I don't think council as a group has had a discussion on the baseball stadium and come to any consensus, even, on whether or not we're going to put all our resources behind moving this forward. And then if we have resources to do this project, is that the best use for them?” 

The ordinance passed 6-1.

Next up to the plate, a resolution to accept the feasibility study conducted by National Sports Services, the longest part of the meeting. Brian Parker, a representative of BKP Consulting, National's co-project manager, gave a condensed presentation on the potential impact of baseball on Wilmington. Many questions from council focused on why the Mandalay/Braves stadium is estimated at $42 million, when stadiums in other comparable markets like Bowling Green, Kentucky and Greenville, South Carolina cost half that much.

Parker reported Mandalay's proposal includes more amenities like extra club suites and larger lockers for the team, giving the stadium a more major league feel. He says to really figure it out, council needs to focus on all these particulars, as well as the big picture, in the next step, if there's a next step. And there is a next step. Mayor Bill Saffo asked the big, fat question:

“Most important question, and what we paid for, and I want to hear it from you folks, is baseball good for Wilmington?”

Parker said he thinks it could be successful, that in other markets baseball has been very successful. But he says there's more to it than a dollars and cents perspective. And then, Mayor Saffo hit a line drive.

He moved to accept National's feasibility study, then asked Deputy City Manager Tony Caudle to work on preparing steps for a resolution the council could consider in terms placing a bond referendum for the cost of the stadium on the ballot in November. Both were approved unanimously. Caudle says by the council's next meeting, which is in three weeks, he'll probably have a good packet of information to present to the council for a potential bond referendum.

“We'll have to investigate some of those project costs to be able to come up with a determinable number. And then bring them a resolution forward which will be first in a series of steps that we'll have to do through the state of North Carolina to be able to get the point that they've just said they want to be at.”

Caudle says he doesn't know how this would affect the other potential referendum, which says no tax payer money can be used for the stadium. Even though representatives from Mandalay and the Braves were not present at the meeting, they're still standing by.

At this point it's unclear if New Hanover County will participate for the next round of talks. But as the city moves forward with baseball, where and what this stadium may look like and how much it might cost and is still not entirely defined. Looks like we're going into extra innings.