Baseball fans will be forgiven if they have an ominous feeling that the Charlotte Knights still have time to blow it in the bottom of the ninth. But team officials quietly squeaked out of a bases-loaded jam last week and appear poised to break ground on the uptown stadium theyve long fought for.
Mecklenburg County commissioners are expected to get an update Tuesday night on the Knights effort to move from Fort Mill to an uptown stadium half-paid for by taxpayers.
The team faced a crucial June 30 county deadline to submit a financing plan or risk losing $28 million in county land and subsidies. The team submitted a package Friday, County General Manager Bobbie Shields said, that included a letter from lenders committing to loan the team $45 million.
After years of lawsuits, economic troubles and negotiations with politicians, it was a decisive development. The Knights expect to close on the loan on or before September 30, break ground by October 1 and begin playing in April 2014.
Its a move the minor-league team hopes will double attendance and make them financially secure.
How likely is that? Taxpayers would have a better sense of how well theyre protected if the Knights didnt insist on such secrecy in a public-private deal. Taxpayers know little about the Knights financial strength, how much BB&T paid for stadium naming rights or how much Piedmont Natural Gas and other sponsors have paid.
It would not surprise us if the Knights, who have long struggled with their bottom line, fail to raise the $24.5 million they project from naming rights and suite sales. If that happens, they could be back in front of commissioners and the City Council seeking more help, and who knows how much backbone those future politicians will show.
We have been cautious about supporting the Knights deal. Were baseball fans, and would love to catch a game uptown. Were also taxpayer fans, and have wanted safeguards built into the process. The Knights deal with the city became progressively better for taxpayers this year, with their contribution level smaller and their protections more stout than originally planned. The early reliance on property tax payments was removed, for example. And if the Knights arent playing, they dont receive the tax payments.
Ultimately, if the lenders and the Knights are willing to take on the risk, more power to them. But they should expect no more from the public.