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Charlotte Knights open season as future home remains unclear

http://66.225.205.104/JR20090408a.mp3

The Charlotte Knights begin their 20th season Thursday with an 11:15 a.m. game at their stadium in York County. They hoped to be playing in Charlotte by now, but those plans are in limbo. WFAE's Julie Rose reports. As the Charlotte Knights take the field, the team's front office has concerns that go beyond wins and losses. The lease on the Knight's stadium in Fort Mill runs out at the end of this year. And York County officials only want to re-up with the team if they get a long term commitment. "We don't want to continue renewing for a year at a time," says York County Manager Jim Baker. "And if we're only a way station for a future plan - whether it be Charlotte or someplace else - then it probably makes sense for us to look for other uses for that facility rather then to maintain it indefinitely for their purposes." "Well I don't know what the definition of long-term is," says Knight's General Manager Dan Rajkowski. He still has his eye on building a stadium Charlotte because he says the team could attract more fans and make more money there. But he says cutting ties with York right now, would be premature. "The reality is if we broke ground here in the next couple of months, it would still take 18 months to two years to complete the project from start to finish," says Rajkowski. But breaking ground on a $60 million stadium in Charlotte is likely to take much longer than two years. The Knight's had financing agreements with two banks that expired on January 31st. Mecklenburg County is in a budget pinch and less inclined to spend millions on improvements around the stadium site, which it would lease to the team. And there are still several unresolved lawsuits blocking the proposal by a local attorney with competing baseball plans. Meanwhile, York County Manager Jim Baker is hiring a consultant to explore options for the Knight's existing stadium, which sits in a potentially lucrative spot on I-77: "We're really looking at any variety of uses for that property from a sports facility to some other type of community center to even selling the land for it to be developed in another manner," says Baker. With the economy the way it is, Baker adds that York County's not in a position to do something big with the stadium site right away. But they do want to start making plans. Charlotte Knights Manager Rajkowski says his immediate priority is to have a good 20th season - which won't be easy in a recession. He says sponsorship is down 20 to 25 percent and he's counting on ticket sales from families who can't afford big vacations this summer. "It's kind of a 9-inning vacation," says Rajkowski. And it's followed by a 9th inning deadline for the team's stadium plans.