COLUMBUS, OHIO—The Charlotte Knights are short on revenue and running out of time to build an uptown ballpark and they want the city's help.
Last week, the team officially requested $11 million from the city. As council members debate about whether to use taxpayer dollars for the park, leaders in similar AAA baseball cities say those investments paid off for them. With cranes in the air and corporations setting up shop, downtown Columbus, Ohio is rebounding after the Great Recession
Linda Logan of the Columbus Sports Commission attributes some of that success to the 2009 opening of Huntington Park, home of the AAA Columbus Clippers.
"It's one of those George Bailey stories that now we know, we can look back and say it was a great thing for Columbus, and the small hurdles that had to be overcome at the time really paid dividends now," said Logan.
The city of Columbus and Franklin County chipped in a combined $20 million in public money to help build the $70 million downtown park. Logan said the investment helped lure new events, retail and residential units to downtown.
"Right now we have a waiting list for all the residential apartments and condos around the park, so certainly that adds this vibrancy to a downtown that you can't just match,” said Logan.
Columbus' success is often compared by Uptown leaders and officials with the AAA Charlotte Knights. The example is used as the team attempts to relocate from Fort Mill, S.C. and play in a Center City ballpark on land in Third Ward.
“The introduction of a ballpark into this neighborhood will be a super catalyst for development,” said Michael Smith of Charlotte Center City Partners.
There is precedent of public financing for ballparks in North Carolina. In the 1990's, $14 million in taxpayer supported bonds paid for nearly all of the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The project was considered controversial by some people then, but is now credited by many for Durham's downtown renaissance.
"If it was easy, it would have been done. At some point in time, you have to take a risk. The city of Durham, the county of Durham took a risk, and it's proven in our favor,” said Durham Mayor Bill Bell.
It is unclear if the Charlotte City Council will agree to help cover the Knights' construction costs and the team must still meet sponsorship and financing deadlines with Mecklenburg County to begin construction.