Cover Story: Knights pitch for more time

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Uptown Charlotte is the home of the Panthers and the Bobcats, but what about baseball?

America's pastime is conspicuously missing from Center City.

A plan to bring cracking bats, hot dogs and cracker jack has languished for years.  Now time is almost up.  Can it be saved?

Mecklenburg county and the Charlotte Knights inked a deal four years ago (that runs out this fall) that says baseball will be ready in uptown by this September.

Have you been down to the site lately?  It's nothing but a field.  Now both sides are working on a one-year extension.

The signs say "coming soon" but don't say how soon.  It looks like a field.  It hasn't changed much in six years since the deal was pitched.

It could be the longest stadium deal in history.

Ask the man on the street whether he'd want to bring the Knights home and there's no doubt.  Said one man, "I would rather see them play in uptown than down in South Carolina cause it's too far away."

The deal with the Knights pitched in 2005 to bring them to Charlotte fell apart after a series of lawsuits, the economy and when financing and sponsorships dried up.

Now the deal to move the AAA baseball franchise from Fort Mill to eight acres in Third Ward owned by Mecklenburg county runs out this fall.

And both sides, the county and the team, are working on an extension.

Mecklenburg county commission chair Jennifer Roberts said this deal raises the bar for the Knights.

"It gives them basically a year extension to show us that they have financing in place, that they have commitments, that they are on track and can plan to continue to develop that stadium," said Roberts.

Since the county's basically holding onto the land for the Knights Mecklenburg county wants some runs and hits from the Knights.

  • It's requiring the team put $100,000 in escrow in case there's any more lawsuits to try to stop the move.
  • Show by March of next year that it's lined up major corporate sponsors or pay another $100,000 into the kitty.
  • Submit a financing plan by June 2012.
  • And start construction by October 2012.

Knights G.M. Dan Rajkowski says, "Our work is really cut out for us. I'd like to get through this exercise of trying to put together documents and legal documents and get back to work which is the work of raising the financing."

Price tag on the stadium started at $35 million.  Today is up to $54 million.

Knights agreed to bear all the cost - make it through tickets, selling the naming rights and inking corporate sponsorships.

But now many wonder if they can do it without any government help.

The county is leasing the land for a dollar a year and doesn't seem to have the stomach to do more.

"I don't think that the political will right now is there to have a public subsidy of what is seen as a private sports venture," says Roberts.

Some on county commission also want as part of the extension of the deal an agreement from the Knights not to come to the county seeking any funds to pay for the stadium.

County commissioners will consider the extension at their meeting Tuesday night and will likely vote in August.

Empty seats are driving this.  The Knights are last in the International League in attendance.

Locating in Center City could boost the economy to the tune of $30 million or more.. that's the kind of economic impact they have in York county.

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