On the same day the Charlotte Knights said they secured a naming-rights deal with BB&T Corp. for a new stadium, the baseball team faced a chilly reception from the Charlotte City Council, which is considering giving the team $8.5 million toward building a ballpark uptown.
The team said it needs city help to build the stadium in Third Ward. Total cost is $74 million, including $28 million from Mecklenburg County.
Its unclear whether there is a majority of council members to back the city subsidy.
Some council members said they believe the team could spend more of its own money on a stadium. Others questioned the timing of the subsidy, which comes as the city is considering a property-tax increase.
No matter how you look at it, its city money, said at-large council member Beth Pickering, a Democrat. We are looking at a 9 percent property-tax increase. We have CATS fare increases. We have water bill increases.
The city has proposed giving the Class AAA team $6 million from hotel/motel tax revenue, which by state law can only be used for tourism-related purposes. Those payments would be spread out over 20 years.
In addition, the city would give the team $2.5 million. That would essentially be a refund of 90 percent of the property taxes the team is expected to pay over 20 years.
In March, the Knights asked for $11 million. The city then offered $9 million, with $4.5 million coming from a portion of property taxes generated from surrounding property. The idea was that the stadium would spark development, and the city would give the team some of that new tax money.
After some pushback from council members, city staff changed its offer.
The latest plan would give the team $8.5 million. It limits the tax rebates to just the baseball stadium site, which could include a hotel.
Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble, who has led the city staff effort to bring the Knights uptown, said the team needed city help because financing has gotten more difficult to obtain.
The recession has created an additional gap, Kimble said.
The Chicago White Sox affiliate plays in Fort Mill, where its attendance is among the lowest in the International League. The team has said it can double annual attendance to 600,000 with a uptown stadium.
Six votes needed
The city proposal has two adamant supporters on the council Democrats James Mitchell and David Howard.
Howard has said the city has a long history of public-private partnerships, and he said the stadium could transform an area of surface parking lots.
Howard said council members should do whats best for the city, even if it comes at a politically difficult time.
We cant shirk our responsibilities because its too hard to understand, Howard said.
Other members appear to support the project, but with some concerns. Democrats LaWana Mayfield and Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon have spoken favorably about a stadium, though they havent committed to voting for it.
Three council members have strongly criticized the plan or said they will vote against it: Republican Andy Dulin, who is running for the 9th District congressional seat; and Democrats Patsy Kinsey and Claire Fallon.
That leaves a tug-of-war over the five swing votes before the scheduled May 14 vote.
Mayor Anthony Foxx, a Democrat, wont vote unless there is a tie.
I would describe my own feelings as being upgraded to ambivalence, Foxx said during Mondays meeting. If I stack up the critical challenges to the community, baseball doesnt rise to the top of the list.
Foxx said his priority is City Manager Curt Waltons $926 million capital plan, which would invest in the citys poorest neighborhoods through 2020.
But he wouldnt say whether he would veto a council decision to subsidize the Knights.
Council members who are on the fence criticized the deal, including Pickering and Democrat Michael Barnes.
Barnes compared the projections for increased attendance to the erroneous projections for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Im still not convinced they cant make the payments themselves, Barnes said of the team.
The teams financing plan, presented to the city, calls for the Knights, owned by Don Beaver, to immediately pay $7.5 million. The Knights would also contribute $30 million from naming rights, sponsorships and suite sales.
The public would pick up the rest.
Mecklenburg County would pay $8 million over 20 years, and the city would pay $8.5 million. Mecklenburg County has also agreed to lease the team 8 acres valued at $20 million for $1 a year.
The stadium would be called BB&T Ballpark under the agreement announced Monday. The deal calls for the stadium to carry the banking corporations name and signs, plus other promotional opportunities.
BB&T declined to disclose the amount of money involved in the deal.
BB&T has its name on two sports venues in the Winston-Salem area Wake Forest Universitys football stadium, and the citys minor-league baseball stadium.
Pete Zifchak, BB&T senior vice president of corporate sports marketing and event planning, said the uptown stadium is a compelling opportunity for us to extend the BB&T brand in Charlotte.
Triple-A baseball in the attractive setting of uptown Charlotte, Zifchak said, will enhance the areas vibrancy and raise the awareness of BB&T and our commitment to the communities we serve. Staff writer Steve Lyttle contributed.