After more than six years of wrangling, the Charlotte City Council Monday approved giving the Charlotte Knights $8 million toward building a new uptown stadium, a contribution the team said will make the Third Ward ballpark a reality.
The Class AAA baseball club said the subsidy will allow them to begin construction in October. The team plans to play baseball uptown starting in April 2014, Knights general manager Dan Rajkowski said.
Charlotte has not been home to minor league baseball in 24 years, after then-owner George Shinn moved the team to South Carolina. The Knights have since then played in Fort Mill, where the Chicago White Sox affiliate now draws some of the International Leagues smallest crowds.
Council members voted 7-4 to approve the deal. Democrats Michael Barnes, Claire Fallon, Beth Pickering and Patsy Kinsey voted no.
Republican Andy Dulin had said he was against the deal, but changed his mind. He said the fact that no general property taxes would be given to the team convinced him to vote yes.
This deal has been massaged and massaged, Dulin said. We have squeezed more wine out of the rock.
The team had originally asked the city for $11 million, but a majority of council members felt that was too much money. City staff worked since March to come up with a plan that would get six council votes, and finally settled on a deal that would include no general fund revenue.
The plan calls for the Knights to receive $7.25 million from Mecklenburgs hotel and motel occupancy tax, which is dedicated to tourism and cant be spent on things such as roads, schools or police.
In addition, Center City Partners, an uptown booster group, will contribute $725,000. Both amounts will be paid over 20 years.
The city has said it has protected itself in case the stadium deal falls apart. The team only gets the money if its playing baseball uptown.
Mecklenburg County also is contributing $8 million, and agreed to lease land to the team for $1 a year. The land bounded by South Mint, South Graham and West Fourth streets and West Martin Luther King Boulevard is valued at $20 million to $24 million.
The stadium itself, which would be called BB&T Ballpark, is expect to cost $54 million.
Knights owner Don Beaver said the only thing left is lining up financing for the teams share of the cost.
Were talking to the banks right now, Beaver said Monday night.
In addition to financial hurdles, the planned stadium has also run into a series of legal challenges.
Attorney Jerry Reese who reiterated Monday that he believes the city is better suited for major-league baseball has filed at least five lawsuits to block an uptown stadium. County Attorney Marvin Bethune said he considers Reeses latest lawsuit, filed in April, completely without merit.
The City Council baseball vote came after an unexpected 6-5 defeat of a $926 million capital plan that would have been funded by an 8percent property tax increase.
That vote stunned Mayor Anthony Foxx, who has said on many occasions he is ambivalent about baseball.
We have not approved the budget, we have not done the homework necessary to get this community going forward, Foxx said. We have approved a project thats probably a nice project, but thats not a project that in my opinion will transform this city over the next 20 years.
Foxx, however, did not veto the decision to give the Knights $8 million.
The Knights had originally asked only Mecklenburg County for financial help.
But earlier this year, the team hired UNC Charlotte economist John Connaughton to do an economic impact study for a new uptown stadium.
The study presented a rosy picture of a Third Ward stadium, and was a precursor to the team asking for city help.
That was a tough sell. In addition to Foxxs reluctance, other council members were also wary.
Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon said the first two versions of city help for the Knights werent acceptable because they contained a property tax rebate for the team.
Cannon pushed for more occupancy tax money, and for Center City Partners to spend some of its money. Center City Partners receives about 75 percent of its funding from a special property tax inside Interstate 277 and the South End.
In explaining his yes vote Monday night, Cannon said the stadium would provide uptown with family-oriented entertainment.
Others were concerned about the teams projections that a new stadium would allow the Knights to more than double their annual attendance, to 600,000.
Some council members said they were wary about such promises after the NASCAR Hall of Fame and U.S. National Whitewater Center two other taxpayer-supported projects that have struggled financially.
A number of speakers from the citys hospitality industry spoke in favor of the new stadium. They hope it will allow the city to host college baseball tournaments and other events, which will fill hotel rooms, they said.