Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Braves baseball agreement: A closer look

The draft agreement the City of Wilmington released Friday toward a proposed 6,200-seat minor-league ballpark would solidify several of the project’s most discussed points—for one, that its financing would depend on voter approval—but City Council’s acceptance of it on Tuesday wouldn’t necessarily end the deal-making.

The first of 12 pages in the City of Wilmington’s memorandum of understanding with the Atlanta Braves and Mandalay Baseball Properties. It’s up for approval Tuesday.

“This MOU (memorandum of understanding) is not intended as a complete and final agreement governing these matters, and the Parties intend to execute one or more final agreements to govern these matters in greater detail,” the document up for council’s approval Tuesday says. The parties include the Atlanta Braves, which would base a minor-league team at the stadium, and sports entertainment group Mandalay Baseball Properties.

A complete copy of the MOU is viewable here.

“However,” it states, “the parties do intend for this MOU to be binding as to the particular deal points addressed by this MOU and to bind the Parties, subject to the contingencies in Sections 8 and 9 of this MOU, to negotiate in good faith to develop and execute one or more final agreements consistent with those deal points.”

Among those contingencies: the passage by voters of the $37 million bond referendum on November 6 and the city closing on a mutually acceptable site for the ballpark’s construction.

The MOU does not name the property eyed, but the city has explored an 8.5-acre spot against the Cape Fear River downtown, near the PPD office building. Owned by developer Chuck Schoninger, the site was estimated to cost no more than $6 million (with the stadium construction no more than $31 million, hence the bond total).

The draft agreement up for consideration Tuesday does describe a riverside site with no less than seven acres for the ballpark and enough room for a possible 1.5-acre city park. The park would be “developed and financed separately from the ballpark, with the operator (the Braves and Mandalay) having no responsibility for the public park’s financing or development.”

And if the city’s cost to acquire the land passes $6 million, the city would be on the hook for the excesses and could not raise the management fees on the Braves-Mandalay for use of the stadium. If the cost is less than $6 million, the city would have to invest the savings in the ballpark’s development budget.

In another contingency, the agreement states the Braves would have to successfully acquire and move to Wilmington a Class-A minor-league franchise currently based in Lynchburg, Va., a team called the Hillcats.

“The parties acknowledge a mutual desire for other sports teams or clubs to use the ballpark as their home facility,” the MOU offers. Teams interested would have to enter into agreements with the City of Wilmington and the Braves-Mandalay.

But the N.C. Azalea Festival would have a large stake. Per the proposed agreement, the festival would “have priority over all other events at the ballpark,” even over the Braves minor-league team the stadium will host. That would, however, be subject to the Carolina League, a division of Minor League Baseball, whose authority would supersede all.

The City of Wilmington would own the ballpark, but the Braves-Mandalay would assume its operating expenses and in return would take all revenues. Those revenues would come from the sales of tickets, box and club seats, private memberships, food and beverages, broadcasting rights for home games, and advertising, signage and sponsorships. The city would receive revenues from city-sponsored events.

The 20-year agreement with the city would also bind the Braves-Mandalay to annual management and rent payments of $500,000.

The agreement released by the city Friday differs slightly from expectations. For one, the city previously described the deal as headed toward a 5,000-seat arena, which is 1,200 seats smaller than the stadium envisioned in the MOU council will discuss on Tuesday.

“The Operator has expressed a desire for the Ballpark to include a total capacity of 6,200, allocated approximately as 1,000 picnic plaza seats, 4,500 lower bowl seats, and 700 upper bowl seats,” the draft explains.

If the council on Tuesday accepts the agreement and the city’s electorate on November 6 approves the financing, the partners would expect construction of the stadium by April 2014 or April 2015, depending on the design process.

“The parties then will mutually agree on a target completion date, taking into consideration such discussions and other relevant factors, and shall incorporate that date into the parties’ final agreements.”

City Council’s meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 102 N. Third Street.


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