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Wilmington City officials say baseball stadium deal is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

A crowd packed WHQR’s MC Erny Gallery last night to hear a debate on whether a publicly-funded baseball stadium is a good idea for Wilmington.  Mayor Bill Saffo and City Councilman Kevin O’Grady made the case for a stadium on Wilmington’s riverfront; Scott Harry and Jim Rafferty of the Vote No Stadium Tax Referendum Committee argued against the project that voters could decide to fund with a 37 million dollar bond. 

WHQR’s Rachel Lewis Hilburn reports the city’s case hinges on a set of circumstances that, they claim, may never be quite as advantageous again. 

“Hear this?  [knock knock knock] That’s opportunity knocking at our door. [audience laughter,  applause].”

That remark by Wilmington City Councilman Kevin O’Grady brought a round of applause – along with jeering laughter from the opposition. 

O’Grady says the deal the City negotiated with Mandalay and the Atlanta Braves has unheard-of built-in protections for city taxpayers.  For example, what if the stadium can’t sell enough tickets to pay for operations? 

“We’ve eliminated that from the City.  Because our contract clearly provides that all operational expenses fall on baseball and they are responsible for all operational losses.  We are not going to pay those losses.  So we’ve taken that risk off the table contractually.”

What if the team moves away and leaves the city with an empty ballpark?

“The Atlanta Braves are going to sign this minor league lease.  That doesn’t happen.  And they have agreed – they have contracted with us – that they will place a team here for 20 years.  That’s a promise we can count on and we can enforce.”

City officials predicate their case on minimal risk, minimal tax burden, and a big potential payoff in the form of economic growth. 

And Mayor Bill Saffo agrees with O’Grady that it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 

“It is $4 a month.  That’s a dollar a week.  If you want a nice, great facility that will be used for generations to come, please vote for it.  If you don’t and you can’t afford $4 a month, don’t vote for it.”

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.