Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Leland puts down $30K for feasibility study on baseball stadium development

Plans for a Leland baseball stadium have been pitched and a feasibility study is underway from the Town of Leland to assess its potential. (Courtesy JPR Architects)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — Leland officials agreed to dole out tens of thousands of dollars to explore its next potential boon for economic growth. 

News broke Feb. 1 that Texas Rangers ownership group REV Entertainment is interested in bringing a 1,400-acre sports and entertainment complex to U.S. Highway 17 in the Jackeys Creek area. Plans devised by Jones, Petrie, Rafinski (JPR) Architects show it would be situated between Brunswick Forest and a Walmart supercenter in Leland.

READ MORE: Leland council requests open burning regulations

Monday, the town council appropriated $30,000 to pay consulting firm Baker Tilly to perform a feasibility study for a potential baseball stadium. It will conduct financial analysis and document review on the prospective project, including:

  • Sources of capital funding
  • Review of project documents and proformas
  • Due diligence on construction and operating costs
  • Determine financial gaps in the project
  • Identify revenue sources to offset debt incurred during financing
  • Identify potential financing methods
  • Estimate the community impact of the project, including job growth and overall economic impact

Town spokesperson Jessica Jewell noted REV has presented some conceptual designs, but the study will have to be completed before any architectural or planning work is underway.

REV Entertainment, along with Leland and Brunswick County officials, have been entertaining the idea to bring a ballpark to the burgeoning town since last summer, according to internal emails obtained by Port City Daily.

Top executives from REV traveled to the area in December to present their idea to area stakeholders — county and town leaders, state politicians, local athletic coaches, businesses, organizations, and leaders from neighboring municipalities. Informational sessions took place over three days.

REV has two venues in Texas — the 40,000-seat Globe Life Field, where the Rangers play, and the 48,000-seat Choctaw Stadium, which hosts the Dallas Jackals, North Texas Soccer Club and XFL’s Arlington Renegades. 

In the decade since the Texas group was formed, the complex where its stadiums are located has grown with the Arlington Entertainment District. Once barren land now houses hotels, the first MLB-endorsed 18-hole golf course, a museum, and a 300-unit upscale residential community, with a convention center on the way.

The model has become a selling point to other municipalities the group looks to expand into. In the fall, REV entered a partnership with the City of Shreveport to bring baseball back to the Louisiana city in the vacant 180-acre fair grounds that hadn’t been used for more than 10 years.

Leland’s stadium would be 10 times smaller than the Rangers’ Globe Life Field arena. According to JPR’s proposal for conceptual design, it could hold roughly 4,000 or 5,000 fans.

REV’s presentation to stakeholders, obtained by Port City Daily, noted it would invest $100 million in entertainment, restaurants, and a hotel in Leland. In addition to the stadium, it includes roughly 1,700 parking spaces and an additional 400 spaces to accommodate surrounding mixed-use development.

Homes also will be built nearby in Jackeys Creek.

“The planned development will likely happen regardless of baseball,” town manager David Hollis wrote to staff in December, internal emails show.

The development falls in line with Leland’s 2045 Vision, according to Jewell. It proposes “a nodal, mixed-use development that emphasizes a sense of place through form-based development that balances the built and natural environments.”

The stadium property is located in an unincorporated area of the county, adjacent to Leland. Jewell said the property owner, Jackeys Creek Investors LLC, and town officials have been in conversations about voluntary annexation into Leland. 

“A petition for voluntary annexation has not yet been submitted,” she said. “Once submitted, the process typically takes three months.”  

Jewell said the town didn’t have documents assessing preliminary numbers, costs or revenue, for the stadium. Nor could she give the split proposed between Leland and REV Entertainment which would manage the facility.

“This is part of the due diligence that we’re currently engaged in,” Jewell said.  

REV would oversee operations through a lease agreement and manage ticketing, marketing, branding and revenue growth. It does the same at the 4,000-seat Grainger Stadium in Kinston, where the Down East Wood Ducks play, and Hickory’s smaller venue for the Crawdads.

It won’t be the first time a minor league baseball stadium has been poised for the area. The two-year-old Riverfront Park in Wilmington was pitched as the site for a 6,000-seat stadium in 2012, to be paid for by taxpayers to the tune of $37 million. Atlanta Braves and Mandalay Baseball scoped out prospective land, but the referendum to build the stadium — which would have increased property taxes by 2.5 cents per $100 — failed among voters.

Today, Live Oak Pavilion stands instead.

“A stadium is the most exciting idea of entertainment this town or even surrounding towns have had in a while,” Leland resident Aaron Furr wrote to Port City Daily. “Even though Wilmington turned [a stadium] down, I believe even Wilmington would benefit from this.”

To catch a minor league game now, fans would have to drive an hour south to Myrtle Beach. The Pelicans — a Single-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs — compete in the Carolina League at a ballpark across from the Broadway at the Beach shopping and dining complex.

Or in the immediate vicinity, 15 minutes across the Cape Fear Memorial from Leland, the Wilmington Sharks — the east division of the Coastal Plain League — play in Legion Stadium at Buck Hardee Field.

Yet, REV noted in its presentation if the stadium was approved, it could bring more than baseball to the area. It hosted 125 major events in the last two years at its Arlington venues. REV said it brought in $120 million since 2020, from rodeos, soccer, rugby, and football games, as well as concerts, including top-tier acts like Elton John, Lady Gaga and Paul McCartney.

It also has working relationships with entities such as Live Nation, AEG, XFL, Teton Ridge, and the Big 12 Conference. However, one of those companies would become competition as Live Nation manages the 7,000-seat Live Oak Bank Pavilion on Wilmington’s waterfront and the 1,500-seat outdoor amphitheater of Greenfield Lake, roughly 10 miles away in Wilmington.

Live Nation did not respond to PCD’s request for comment on whether it would work with REV locally if the stadium was approved for Leland.

“The location chosen in the northern end of the County is preferred by the baseball group because of the separation from other similar venues and the untapped and growing market throughout northern Brunswick County and New Hanover County,” Hollis wrote to staff in December.

Paying for the stadium could rest on the shoulders of the voting public; a county-wide municipal bond has been floated as an option, but that also means getting all Brunswick municipalities outside of Leland onboard. With county commissioners’ approval, a referendum could be on a ballot this November. 

“The lease revenue will offset the debt service on the bond, along with the increase in value created around the stadium,” Hollis wrote.

Jewell said while the town is still considering a bond referendum, it is “looking at all potential funding options.”

A bond could tack on costs for infrastructure, including updates to existing roadways connecting to nearby neighborhoods and commercial areas, as well as additional entry points onto highways 17 and 133. Street improvements will continue as the development evolves and traffic increases, Hollis wrote in an email. Those plans will have to be coordinated with other agencies, including the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

“The road improvements will be required regardless of baseball,” Hollis indicated and explained the development will follow all environmental regulations mandated for stormwater runoff, flooding, and wetland protections. 

Should financing be in place by the end of the year, construction plans could be finalized in winter 2024, with a groundbreaking taking place by spring. Opening day would then be scheduled for spring 2026. 

Yet, Leland officials have been clear they’re only in the beginning stages of exploration. 

“I think this could be a wonderful opportunity for Leland, Brunswick County, and the Cape Fear region as a whole,” Leland councilman Bill McHugh wrote to Port City Daily. “We are in the very early stages of this discussion so I simply don’t have the information I need to make an informed decision yet.”

Council member Veronica Carter shared McHugh’s enthusiasm for the prospect but added “the devil is the details, which we don’t have yet.”

The feasibility study results will be presented to council and shared with the public upon completion. The study is expected to take 60 to 90 days to complete.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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