FORT MILL, S.C. As the Charlotte Knights break attendance records at their new BB&T BallPark in uptown Charlotte, the former home of the Knights awaits demolition.
Cato Corp., the Charlotte-based clothing retailer, closed on its long-planned purchase of the Fort Mill stadium site last month for $841,284. That adds 32 acres to the more than 250 acres of surrounding land the company already owns.
It plans to use the space for a distribution center and possibly a development that could include hotels, restaurants and housing. No dates have been set for demolition of the stadium or construction of the distribution center, and firm plans for the development have not been announced.
John Howe, Cato’s chief financial officer, said the timing was good when the company discovered the land for sale.
“It fell in our lap,” Howe told the Observer. “We were looking for land for a distribution center.”
At the Fort Mill stadium, broken glass litters the entrance to Gate C, “No Trespassing” signs are taped over nearly every door and the tint on the Novelty Shop windows is peeling. The York County Sheriff’s Office says the area is regularly patrolled to keep trespassers away.
Mark Farris, York County’s economic development director, said the prospect of redeveloping the site is good news for the county. “What we need more of in the Fort Mill area is jobs-producing development,” he said.
Cato will be eligible for a property tax break for building the distribution center. Should the hotels and restaurants be built, York County would handle tax incentives for the companies on a case-by-case basis, Farris said.
The Fort Mill stadium, built in 1990, came three years after George Shinn bought the team. Current owner Don Beaver purchased the team seven years later. The $54 million uptown Charlotte stadium opened in April.
The Fort Mill stadium was owned by York County and leased by the team. When the Knights’ lease expired, Cato bought the 32 acres from the county. The company bought the surrounding land in federal bankruptcy court a year and a half ago.
Last weekend the Knights set an all-time season attendance record in the uptown ballpark. The team draws an average 9,000 fans a night – more than twice the average attendance at the stadium in Fort Mill. Last season, the Knights had the lowest attendance of any team in the Class AAA International League.
“I’ll be honest, I miss the location,” said Theron Pickens, a board member of the York County Regional Chamber and a Knights fan. “It was so convenient for me and my family.”
But Pickens said he has high hopes for what Cato can bring to Fort Mill. “This particular area is ripe with opportunities.”