Thursday, April 18, 2024

At downtown press conference, group speaks out against city’s baseball proposal

WILMINGTON A day after the Wilmington Family Entertainment and Baseball Committee kicked off its campaign of support for the city’s proposed 6,200-seat baseball stadium downtown, former mayor Harper Peterson attended a press conference with the opposition group and said families are among those whom the stadium plan would hurt.

Former Wilmington mayor Harper Peterson speaks out against the city’s proposal to build a baseball stadium with public money. Photo by Ben Brown.

Peterson, who spoke for the Vote No Stadium Tax (VNST) group at a podium outside the Wilmington Convention Center Thursday, said plenty of Wilmington parents are holding multiple jobs at once to support their families and that the 2.5-cent property tax increase that would pay for the stadium’s construction wouldn’t make life any easier.

About the proposal, “They’re asking why,” Peterson said.

If Wilmington voters approve the stadium’s public financing on November 6, the owner of a $175,000 home would be subject to an additional yearly $43.75 property tax obligation. The proposal, following a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that Wilmington City Council accepted on Tuesday, is for a stadium on riverfront property downtown that would host an Atlanta Braves minor-league team.

For Scott Harry, a local hardware company owner and head of VNST, the issue isn’t necessarily the building of a stadium; it’s the fact that a large amount of public money would be involved if the not-to-exceed $37 million bond referendum passes, which would require the 2.5-cent property tax addition.

The city’s current property tax rate is 45 cents per $100 of value.

“There’s a lot of emotion,” Harry said at Thursday’s press conference. “People love baseball. And I do, too.”

But, he added, “It’ shouldn’t be a priority of government.”

The 20-year MOU that the council approved Tuesday, though not the end-all document in the deal-making, firmed several points including that the city would own the ballpark. The Braves, in partnership with sports entertainment group Mandalay Baseball Properties, would assume operating expenses and would in turn take all revenues. The partnership would also pay the city $500,000 yearly in management fees and rent.

Members of VNST said their concerns with the MOU (link) were numerous. They handed members of the media spiral-bound pages of notes that countered or questioned many of the MOU’s points.

For one, the MOU says it 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.”

VNST’s question: “How then can the City Council and tax payers vote for a bond when we have no idea of the entire deal?”

In another point, the MOU notes that the city will have the right to reserve up to 10 days per year for its own sponsored events at the ballpark, though it would have to pay the Braves-Mandalay a “reasonable management fee” in addition to operating costs.

VNST’s statement: “Tax payers own the ballpark and yet for the events must pay another management fee to Mandalay per event.”

“This is a bad deal, even if I was in favor of putting tax money into it,” said Jim Rafferty, an information technology consultant who spoke for the stadium opposition Thursday.

The press conference was intended to serve as a pump-up for Wilmingtonians against the city’s plan and an effort to make voters aware of the group’s points ahead of the general election, which will include the bond referendum.

It came one day after supporters of the stadium plan, under the name Wilmington Family Entertainment and Baseball Committee, gathered at the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce to launch their vote-yes campaign.

Attendees included Braves General Manager Frank Wren, committee organizer Terry Spencer, Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors Chairwoman Emily Longley, Wilmington Star-News Publisher Bob Gruber, and Mayor Bill Saffo.

The committee’s message: The stadium could transform Wilmington, speak volumes about its progressiveness with business, and bring about a healthy return on the investment. A report provided to the City of Wilmington in June by consultant National Sports Services said the stadium could generate $168 million in direct new spending.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to reshape our city,” Longley said.


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