Sunday, July 14, 2024

Future of Leland baseball stadium proposal uncertain as petition passes 2,100 signatures

Leland resident Rhonda Florian started the “Stop Leland Baseball Stadium” petition and spoke in opposition to the proposal at the December meeting (Courtesy Town of Leland)

LELAND — As the new year begins, the future of the biggest development proposal in one of the state’s fastest growing municipalities remains uncertain as residents have emphatically opposed the project in meetings and through a petition, now with 2,184 signatures.

Residents against the proposal cite concerns about funding and raising taxes, uncertainty of the stadium’s economic success, noise and light pollution, and the need to use public funds on essential infrastructure.

At the most recent council meeting Dec. 14, Rhonda Florian, the resident who started the petition, said many Leland residents told her they would move away from the town if the stadium is built. 

“We will continue to organize to stop this stadium deal,” she said.

Although it was not on the agenda, residents’ opposition to the project dominated public comment; their criticisms followed around a dozen residents who spoke out after a feasibility study recommending the project was presented at the council’s Oct. 19 meeting.

Its supporters argue it would be an economic boon to the region and provide a much-needed entertainment district in Leland, whose population has multiplied from 4,125 in 2000 to 28,591 in 2022. The municipality rapidly expanded its territory in recent years until local Sen. Will Rabon (R-Brunswick) sponsored a bill to stop it from annexing land more than 1.5 miles from its border earlier this year.

The stadium would require the annexation of land owned by Jackey’s Creek Investors LLC, near Brunswick Forest neighborhood and the Walmart Supercenter complex in Leland. At the October meeting, councilmember Veronica Carter said the site would remain eligible for annexation regardless of new law.

Hill Rogers, managing member of Jackey’s Creek Investors and broker-in-charge of Cameron Management, LLC, told Port City Daily he was unsure of the town’s current stance on the proposal and was unaware of any recent developments.

“I think the residents have valid concerns, specifically if it relates to the use of taxpayer money — in place of Rev’s money — for the construction of a baseball stadium,” Rogers said on Friday.

REV Entertainment, an events and sports management group created by the Texas Rangers in 2021, began discussing the stadium idea with the town last summer. The most recent site plan would take up 51 acres and be surrounded by commercial and residential developments.

Leland paid consulting and public accounting firm Baker Tilly $30,000 for a feasibility study on the project completed in October; the study suggested the town move forward with the proposal. The study found the $105 million Jackeys Creek development would create sufficient property and sales tax revenue to cover the cost of the stadium in the long-term.

It did not address short-term financial requirements for the proposed project or the specifics of how tax funds generated by the stadium would be utilized. 

On Friday, spokesperson Jessica Jewell told PCD town staff do not have any updates on the proposal at this time. The town did not offer a response regarding resident pushback, nor did it answer by press when the next scheduled meeting to discuss the proposal would be held. 

The town issued a Nov. 2 statement “responding to misinformation” about the proposal, reiterating no concrete action has been taken to ensure its development. The statement said the town has not entered any contract negotiations with REV or Jackey’s Creek investors.

It also noted the town has not finalized the location for the stadium, and is willing to consider alternate areas to potentially lower costs and lessen sight and noise impact for neighbors.

“Whether a stadium is appropriate for Leland, or any stadium is truly viable for any city in the U.S., is yet to be determined by the Town,” the statement said. “Some say that all stadiums are boondoggles and an undue burden on taxpayers, yet there are more than 200 such stadiums in the U.S, The Town wants sufficient time to investigate these for itself, rather than prematurely dismissing a potential opportunity.”

PCD reached out to the town’s mayor and council members; Carter and Mayor Pro Tem Bob Campbell were the only members to respond by press. 

Carter said the council has not addressed the issue since receiving the feasibility study and discussing it earlier in the fall. 

“Quite frankly, it isn’t really on the radar for anytime soon,” she said.

Campbell said he is keeping an open mind on the proposal while further financing options are considered; Brunswick County pulled out of carrying the finance debt after it was revealed last spring it would cost more than $100 million. Campbell believed some residents’ concerns were relevant, but added “many concerns are based on uninformed or misinformed sources.”  

In a Nov. 19 interview, Carter said pushed back against some of the residents’ concerns about debt-financing and raising taxes. She stated she was a taxpayer herself and the council would not make rash decisions.

Carter argued studies finding stadiums to be a poor public investment should not lead to blanket dismissal of similar projects. She cited Kinston, North Carolina’s baseball stadium as an example of how a similar venue in Leland could succeed. PCD reached out to Kinston Mayor Don Hardy and planning director Elizabeth Blount to ask about the economic impact of their stadium but did not receive an answer by press.

Carter argued the development didn’t necessarily need to be a stadium, but she envisioned a “gathering place” and “downtown entertainment area” for the community.

“It could be a park,” she said. “It could be a convention center. It could be a meeting place that people can rent out.”

The town’s Nov. 2 statement similarly expressed desire for a “transformational” project to “create a sense of place” in Leland and complement neighboring properties.

“A development of this magnitude takes years, possibly even decades, to plan and build,” the statement said. “The potential positive and negative impacts will not be realized in the short-term.”


Tips or comments? Email journalist Peter Castagno at peter@localdailymedia.com.

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