Lawyer bids on land that holds Knights' stadium

The man who has made it his mission to keep the Charlotte Knights out of uptown is now making a bid to buy the team's South Carolina home.

Charlotte attorney Jerry Reese, owner of Gold Hill Sports, recently made a $5 million offer to York County for a 32-acre tract that includes the Knights' stadium. The Knights' lease runs through the end of the year, with an option to renew through the 2009 season.

Reese said he would still allow the Knights to play in the Fort Mill stadium for as long as the team wants. But he wants to turn the acres surrounding the stadium into a variety of commercial projects, including a hotel, movie theater and bowling lanes.

“This project would basically convert what is a standalone stadium into a thriving mixed-use development,” Reese said.

Reese said he has wanted to buy the land for a year. Daniel Ballou, Reese's attorney, sent the proposal to the York County Manager Jim Baker last week.

Baker said Tuesday that he had not seen the proposal, but he was aware of Reese's interest in the land. “Jerry has long talked about doing something out there,” he said.

Baker said the county will be sending out a request for proposals on the property within the next 30 days. As a part of that, he said, officials will ask for input from residents. “We want to know what people would like to see done out there,” he said.

The Knights attempts to move from their Fort Mill home have been a long process that has included lawsuits by Reese and the bottom dropping out of the national economy.

The minor league team has played just across the state line since 1989, but officials have worked over the past decade to build a stadium uptown. It signed a lease with Mecklenburg County to build a roughly 10,000-seat stadium on county land in Third Ward.

Owners had hoped to be in their new home by 2009, but have already delayed the move by a year. And now officials are starting to wonder if it makes financial sense at all.

Knights general manager Dan Rajkowski has said the Knights still believe a move to uptown would be best for the minor league team. But he said a long legal fight with Reese and the country's current economic woes are keeping the team from closing on a financing deal for the ballpark.

Also, the price tag for the new stadium has increased to $62 million, up from the $35 million estimated three years ago.

Rajkowski said Tuesday he had not heard of Reese's proposal, but the news did not surprise him. He said the team's current goal is to grow and build the team at Knight Stadium and to celebrate its 20th season in Fort Mill.

Reese has filed five lawsuits against the stadium project, and related land deals. Four of the suits have been dismissed, though he has appealed those decisions.

He has said he wants a major league baseball team in the area, and has come up with a plan to build a stadium and mixed-use development in Second Ward. He said his proposed Fort Mill project wouldn't stop plans for the Second Ward development.

“I'm interested in promoting Charlotte as a sports center, and I think that this property has great potential in doing this,” he said.

Reese said he is working with other people in developing the project, but declined to name them. He said he believes they will have at least $50 million worth of development on the property.

Reese said his proposal would not require any substantial public subsidies, though he might ask York County for some help in enhancing the property.