City Council Approves $8 million for Uptown Knights Stadium

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Charlotte City Council members voted 7 to 4 to contribute $8 million to move the Charlotte Knights baseball stadium from Fort Mill to Uptown Charlotte.

Talks of bring the stadium have been going on for years, but the economy, financing and sponsorships have held up the process.

Tracey Whopperer gladly welcomes a new neighbor to the Third Ward and what could possibly be a few thousand friends. Whopperer, Vice President of the Third Ward Neighborhood Association, says the neighborhood has been behind the project since the beginning.

"I think it is going to be great for local businesses. I think it's going to create more entertainment, food venues..so I think it is going to bring a lot of the neighborhood and the city in general...we really hope the vote goes through."

City leaders who oppose the stadium have made their reservations clear at past meetings.

"Do they have it on the table? Can they write a check for it?" Councilwoman Claire Fallon asked.

"If I stack up the really critical challenges facing this community, quite frankly baseball doesn't rise to the top of the list, Mayor Anthony Foxx said.

Councilman Michael Barnes told WBTV Sunday he thinks a number of other tourism related activities could benefit from the money. He is still not convinced the Knights can't close the funding gap themselves with sponsorships or with investors.

"I think if they needed a sidewalk or some sort of infrastructure that didn't need a lot of money I would be able to entertain that but I don't believe the government should be giving them $8 million regardless of the type of money..it's public money," Barnes said.

"This is hospitality and tourism money. And tax dollars, property tax dollars are generated only by the Knights on the property so if we don't generate a baseball stadium we don't get the tax dollars back," Charlotte Knights general manager Dan Rajkowski told WBTV in late April.

"The politicians have changed the taxes that will be used but I don't think the general public really differentiates between the taxes that are used ..So it's just interesting they had this fight and it delayed it months and people don't really know what changed," Eric Spanberg with the Charlotte Business Journal said. Spanberg has been following the deal closely since the beginning. "

City councilman James Mitchell points out the money that is generated can go toward other projects.

"I think that $350 million over 10 years is a little ambitious and aggressive but it is very difficult to tell because you would hope the economy would change a lot between now and then," Spanberg said.

"I don't know whether we'll ever make money on it...We have a history of seeing things projected to produce one result and it produce another result and it may happen here," Barnes said.

He points to venues like the Nascar Hall of Fame and the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Barnes says the same people that made projections about those ventures are the same ones making the projections for the stadium.

Attorney Jerry Reese told WBTV Sunday he thinks the vote is more than one to subsidize the project. Instead says it's the difference between Charlotte being a major league city or a minor league city. Reese calls it another short sighted policy decision. Reese has filed his sixth lawsuit against Mecklenburg County and Charlotte Knights Baseball. The suit aims to terminate a lease the county has with the team to provide land for the stadium in Uptown. The Charlotte Knights say the lawsuit is without merit and they plan to fight it.

The Knights still have to secure a total of $54 million by June 30th.

That total would include $8 million from the city and another $8 million in county grants for construction and improvements around the site.

The remaining $38 million must then come from seat sales, stadium naming rights and sponsorships.

Support is also coming from decision makers connected to other Charlotte sports franchises.

Carl Sheer was the former General Manager of the Charlotte Hornets and previous owner of the Charlotte Checkers.

"We learn that there is an opportunity for every sport to be successful, even in a major city like Charlotte," he said. "It's a great opportunity to broaden the base of support for all sports, economically being a sound investment."

Charlotte Bobcats President Fred Whitfield agrees.

Whitfield said, "Clearly having the Panthers here, having our Bobcats here, and now having the Knights uptown. It will have Charlotte be known more as a sports hub. It will be vibrant year round."

Ground breaking is expected for the fall and the first pitch is planned for the spring of 2014.

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