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Charlotte Area

City Council Weighs Knights Stadium Options

http://66.225.205.104/JR20120424.mp3

The Charlotte Knights' quest for a new stadium uptown is still far from a home run. The full Charlotte City Council got a first look at the team's request for a subsidy Monday and gave it a mixed reception. The Knights went into Monday's meeting with something they surely hoped would bring a vote of confidence from the council. The team announced BB&T had committed to buy naming rights on the stadium for 18 years. "See? We're a good investment" the announcement seemed to say. But Councilman Michael Barnes saw it differently. "Great for them today, got the BB&T sponsorship," said Barnes. "I say go after McDonalds, Burger King, Hardees, whatever you have to go after - Wells Fargo. Cover that gap yourselves. This is not, in my opinion a deal the taxpayers should be covering." Barnes also raised the specter of the deficit-ridden NASCAR Hall of Fame - in which the city invested heavily based on overblown attendance projections. Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble led the city's involvement in that project and is leading the Knights Stadium effort, too. He is urging the city council to commit $6 million of hotel taxes for the stadium, plus $2.5 million in property tax rebates for the team. The money would be paid over 20 years - and only so long as the Knights play in uptown Charlotte. Mecklenburg County has already committed $8 million toward the stadium, plus free use of land worth $24 million. So, could the Knights cobble together enough sponsorship to plug the gap without public money? Kimble says no. "We don't think they can do it based on all the models we've looked at nationally, the amount of public dollars layered with private dollars across the nation on these kinds of deals," Kimble told the city council. "This is on the lower side of public investment to make a partnership in a minor league Triple A baseball stadium happen." The 11-member council appears roughly split on the proposal, with a few still undecided. Councilman David Howard is one of four members who have consistently supported a public subsidy for a Knights ballpark near Bank of America Stadium. "This area of Charlotte has been parking lots my entire life," said Howard. "For me the question is not whether they need us in their deal, it's whether we need them to activate the 3rd ward." The city council's decision is complicated by a proposed 9 percent property tax increase they're also weighing to fund a variety of capital improvements. The Knights Stadium would not be paid for with that increase. Most of the city's $8.5 million commitment for the stadium would come from hotel taxes already being collected - and required by law to be spent on tourism. But Mayor Anthony Foxx has called the stadium a "hard sell" in light of the city's budget pressures. Last night, Foxx said his feelings on the stadium had been "upgraded to ambivalence." "I stack up the really critical challenges facing this community, quite frankly baseball doesn't rise to the top of the list," said Foxx. The city council is scheduled to vote on the stadium funding proposal May 14. The Charlotte Knights must have all of their stadium financing secured by June 30 to meet a deadline set by Mecklenburg County.