City trims baseball proposal to $8.5m

City trims baseball proposal to $8.5m

City trims baseball proposal to $8.5m

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by STEVE HARRISON / Charlotte Observer

WCNC.com

Posted on April 19, 2012 at 10:40 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In an effort to secure the support of the Charlotte City Council, city staff unveiled Thursday a new plan to help pay for an uptown baseball stadium for the Charlotte Knights that relies less on giving the team property tax revenue.

The first plan called for the city to give the Knights $9 million, with half of that coming from property taxes generated by development expected to be built because of the ballpark.
The new plan would give the AAA baseball team $8.5 million.

Hotel/motel taxes would produce $6 million of that total. The rest — $2.5 million — would come from a portion of new property taxes generated by the stadium and a proposed on-site hotel. The team wouldn’t receive property tax revenue from development that might occur adjacent to the stadium, which was part of the first proposal.

Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble, who has been working closely with the Knights, said the changes were “an improvement.”

He said the combined city/county investment in the stadium is “on the lower side of public investment” compared with other AAA baseball stadiums.

The Knights first asked the city for $11 million. But the team said Thursday it would be OK with the reduced amount.

Despite the plan being reworked, it’s unclear if it has six votes to pass on City Council. In addition, Mayor Anthony Foxx hasn’t spoken publicly about the plan for several weeks, after initially telling the Charlotte Business Journal that a city stadium subsidy would be a “hard sell.”

Foxx doesn’t vote with council, but he could veto the plan. His assistant, Tracy Montross, said the mayor doesn’t have a comment on the plan.

Council is expected to vote on the proposal in May.

Complicating the stadium subsidy for some council members is timing. City Manager Curt Walton has proposed a 9 percent property tax increase for a $926 capital plan through 2020. The Knights proposal isn’t part of that capital plan.

“This is such a poor time to bring this up,” said at-large council member Claire Fallon, a Democrat.

Fallon said the baseball stadium subsidy could make it harder to win support for Walton’s capital plan.

The council’s economic development committee, which heard the city presentation Thursday, voted 4-1 to support the plan.

Democrats Patrick Cannon, David Howard, James Mitchell and LaWana Mayfield voted yes. Republican Warren Cooksey voted no, though he said he could change his mind.

Howard said the possibility that the stadium proposal and the capital plan could be “muddled” together shouldn’t stop the city.

He said the area around the stadium site has long been surface parking lots, and he said the project could transform the neighborhood.

The team has projected attendance would increase to 600,000 annually with a move uptown. The Knights attracted about 300,000 fans last year at its stadium in Fort Mill, where the team said it loses money.

Howard said council members shouldn’t focus too much on attendance. The ballpark, he said, would create a “high quality of life” for the city.

Mecklenburg County has agreed to give the team $8 million for infrastructure improvements as well as property worth $20 million.

If the proposed deal was approved, the city and county would contribute $36.5 million to the stadium and the team would spend $37.5 million. The team would be responsible for any cost overruns, according to the city.

Democrat Patsy Kinsey said she believed the team was going to build a new stadium uptown — with or without city help.

“Frankly, I don’t see the need to do this,” Kinsey said. “I’m baffled why we are spending so much time on this.”

Kimble said city participation is critical to build the stadium.

“I sense they would not go through if the city money isn’t there,” Kimble said.

Dan Rajkowski, the Knights general manager, stopped short of saying the team wouldn’t build a stadium without any city money.

He told council members that the city money “is the part that makes the model work.”

There is a an 8 percent tax on hotel and motel room occupancy in Mecklenburg County. A portion of that tax — 3 percent — is used for general tourism.

The city would some of that money to pay for the stadium.

The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority and some hotel lobbyists are OK with the plan. Though Knights games won’t produce much tourism, the team said the stadium could host special events, such as college baseball tournaments.

Under the proposal, the Knights would receive $522,000 a year for twenty years, so long as they played baseball uptown.

The property tax money returned to the team would be between $200,000 and $250,000 a year for twenty years.

If the team is projecting 600,000 fans a year, Cooksey said the team could in theory make up the city contribution by raising ticket prices by a little more than $1.

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