City ready to move forward on baseball deal

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – Enough progress has been made in the negotiations to build a minor league baseball stadium in downtown Wilmington for the Wilmington City Council to vote on specific issues at its next meeting.

Representatives with the city, Mandalay Baseball and the Atlanta Braves have been working on a deal for several months and today have agreed on the basics of it, according to Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo.

The documents spell out major points of agreement, but do not represent a final agreement. All parties involved agree that there will be at least one more agreement that lays out final details. All of the agreements in the contract are contingent upon the city passing a $37 million bond referendum in November and the city acquiring land for the stadium. The city would pay the cost of the bonds with a two and a half cent property tax increase. The Braves have committed to locating a single-A minor league team in Wilmington should the stadium be built.

The city would be responsible for all costs associated  with acquiring a riverfront site for the ballpark. That particular language is slightly different than an earlier version of the agreement. In previous versions, the contract called for the city to purchase a specific 8.5 acre site along the waterfront though no specific piece of property was identified. The city has been in talks with owners of two adjacent properties next to the Isabel Holmes Bridge.

The city will be responsible for building the stadium with a total capacity of 6,200 with a budget of $31 million. If the cost of the stadium exceeds the budget, the contractor on the project will be responsible for the cost overruns unless the project became more expensive due to changes made by the city or Mandalay and the Braves. As long as the budget for construction stays within $31 million, Mandalay and the Braves will have control over the design of the ballpark.

Mandalay and the Braves will rent office space and other areas in the ballpark at a cost of $15 per square foot which will be paid to the city. Mandalay will also pay a $500,000 management fee to the city minus the cost of rent. This money will be used to help retire the cost of purchasing the land for the stadium.

Both parties agree that the North Carolina Azalea Festival can be held in the ballpark each year and will take priority for scheduling purposes each year over all other events, including the baseball team's home games. The city will keep all money that is generated for use of the stadium from non-baseball events. Mandalay and the Braves will keep all money from baseball games including tickets, food and beverages, and merchandise.

Mandalay and the Braves issued a joint news release Thursday afternoon.

"I've said many times that the City of Wilmington is a great partner," Rich Neumann, President of Baseball Development for Mandalay Baseball, said in a news release. "This is a deal we all can be proud of, and I hope the city's voters will see this project as transformational for downtown Wilmington and its northern riverfront."

"We continue to believe a multi-use facility and an affiliate of the Atlanta Braves will be a tremendous boost to the City of Wilmington," Mike Plant, Atlanta Braves Executive Vice President of Business Operations, said. "As people take time to review this proposal, they will see the value of the Atlanta Braves' commitment to becoming part of the Wilmington community for decades to come."

If a final agreement is not reached by October 31st, either party has the right to terminate this contract without penalty.

Wilmington City Council meets Tuesday.

Melissa Talbert, a spokesperson for the city, released the following news release Thursday evening:

"At their meeting on Sept. 18, City Council will consider an agreement with the Atlanta Braves/Mandalay that outlines terms for a 20-year collaboration to build and operate a minor league baseball facility in Wilmington. At their Aug. 7 meeting, Council approved putting a $37 million bond referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot for the cost of the stadium and land.

Following are highlights of the agreement Council will consider on Tuesday:

-A 6,200-seat ballpark to be located on at least 7 acres of downtown riverfront property that could also include a 1.5-acre city park

-Ballpark construction costs would not exceed $31 million, funded by a 2.5-cent property tax increase

-20-year commitment by the Braves

-Anticipated cost of $6 million for land acquisition/remediation; this money would be paid back to the city from the Braves/Mandalay with annual rent and management fees

-Target date for completion would be April 2014 or April 2015, depending on final design

-Braves/Mandalay would be responsible for ballpark's operating expenses and in exchange would receive all revenues

-Project contingent upon:

• Passage of voter referendum

• City acquiring the site and able to build the ballpark for $31 million

• Team purchasing the minor league club in Lynchburg, Va., moving it here and being approved by Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball and the Carolina League

-Another club, such as a university team, could use the ballpark as its home stadium if agreements can be reached

The full agreement and Sept. 18 City Council agenda materials will be posted on the city's website by noon on Friday."

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