CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A new uptown baseball stadium for the Charlotte Knights appears closer to reality, after a majority of City Council members indicated Tuesday they could vote for a new $8 million subsidy that doesn’t include a property tax rebate.
Council members won’t take a formal vote on the baseball plan until June 11, but the most recent proposal to help the AAA baseball team seems close to getting a majority of votes.
In its most recent proposal to help the Knights, city of Charlotte staff stripped out a proposed $2.5 million property tax rebate for the team, which had made some council members uneasy.
City staff has instead proposed to add more hotel/motel tax money to the project – for $7.25 million total – along with $750,000 from Center City Partners, an uptown booster group.
The Knights, who currently play in Fort Mill, want to move to Third Ward for the 2014 season. The team has said a new stadium would double its annual attendance to 600,000. Supporters have also said it would transform that side of uptown with new apartments and restaurants.
The team originally asked for $11 million from the city. It’s already getting $8 million from Mecklenburg County, plus land valued between $20 and $24 million.
City staff first proposed giving the Knights $9 million, and then revised that downward to $8.5 million. That plan would have used $6.5 million from the county’s hotel/motel occupancy tax and a $2.5 million property tax rebate.
But some council members balked at the property tax rebate, in part because they are considering a $926 million capital plan that would be funded by an 8 percent property tax increase.
The new plan tries to avoid that controversy by cutting out the property tax increase.
There are still four of 11 council members who have said they will vote against the stadium plan, or have been highly critical of it: Democrats Michael Barnes, Beth Pickering, Patsy Kinsey and Claire Fallon.
But Tuesday’s changes appeared to win some council members over.
Democrat John Autry, considered a swing vote on the project, said he would likely vote yes. Republican Warren Cooksey said the use of hospitality taxes – which can only be used for tourism purposes – would produce new property taxes for the general fund.
And Republican Andy Dulin, who was once a firm no vote, said he could support it. He said one reason is that the city has protected itself financially, and that the Knights won’t receive any money unless they finish the stadium and play baseball uptown.
Dulin ran in the Republican primary for the 9th Congressional District, but didn’t make the run-off after the May 8 election.
Mayor Anthony Foxx, a Democrat, doesn’t vote with council, though he could veto the subsidy. Foxx said Tuesday he’s still “ambivalent” about the proposal, but hasn’t said whether he would use his veto.
“When I think about the future of our city, I don’t think the lack of baseball is a threat,” Foxx said.
After the meeting Foxx said the city’s capital plan is more important for the city’s long-term future than baseball. Council members will also vote on the capital plan June 11.
Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble, who has been negotiating with the Knights, told council members he believed the Knights couldn’t pay for any more of the stadium from the team’s own money.
The city said the Knights would be responsible for $38 million for the stadium project, whose total cost is $74 million.
“I don’t think the project can go forward (without city help),” Kimble said. “That’s what the Knights are telling us.”
Knights general manager Dan Rajkowski told council members that without city money, the team would return to Fort Mill and “reevaluate.”
Some council members were concerned the city was spending too much of the hotel/motel tax money, which would put other projects in jeopardy.
Kimble said city officials had made sure it could afford the money for baseball and still meet debt obligations.
Kinsey said she was still concerned about the subsidy, even if the property tax rebate was gone.
“However we slice the onion, it’s tax money,” she said.