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City Council amends VIP table ordinance after receiving criticism, some blame media coverage

Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 4:43 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - On Tuesday night, Wilmington City Council members voted to approve a resolution that approved the purchase of a VIP table at the new Live Oak Bank Pavilion at Riverfront Park with four seats for a total of more than $14,000.

The proposal was initially brought to City Council on Monday during the agenda briefing and it raised some eyebrows. Even Mayor Bill Saffo said he wanted to make some changes to the policy to ensure that nobody on Council was given tickets or access to the box. So, on Tuesday, he did just that.

“We will pay for our own tickets, we will access the venue just like anybody else and we will leave like everyone but we will not have anything to do with the box,” Saffo said.

When the newly proposed ordinance was presented on Tuesday, several council members took issue with WECT’s reporting of the policy on Monday.

“I do hate a little bit that we are kind of giving in to some … I saw a headline on WECT — the sensationalism of the journalism is what’s wrong with the country,” Councilman Neil Anderson said.

That headline read: Wilmington taxpayers could be on the hook for $14K worth of VIP tickets for City Council at new amphitheater.

Anderson admitted it was accurate but said it was inflammatory.

Apart from the headline, Anderson said there were inaccuracies in the reporting, mainly the example used to explain what economic development is. That example described a hypothetical situation of a councilman taking a developer who was interested in developing new apartments in the city to a show.

Anderson was reached by phone on Wednesday but was not willing to speak to a reporter on camera. He reiterated his thoughts on the article and said the hypothetical example was in fact, inaccurate.

Although not specifically outlined in the ordinance, apartment complexes and developers who build them do provide economic development to the city. The hypothetical example was used to simply show how the tickets could be used — not say that is how they would only be used.

Saffo offered some additional explanation as to his thoughts about economic development and said that he does not think that real estate developers should be included when considering economic development partners.

“[Developer has] become a word that generates a lot of angst,” Saffo wrote in a text message. “I feel that any of our economic development partners who have clients that are thinking about moving here or companies that are here and expanding should be given the opportunity to see what Wilmington has to offer. Real Estate developers should not. They are here because people are moving here. They are providing services that people need and want like neighborhoods, grocery stores, pharmacies, etc. etc. This park, I feel, will let potential companies that are thinking of moving here the opportunity that we are more than just the beach.”

This helps explain, to a degree, what would be considered economic development.

The ambiguity of the term economic development will be something that the city manager will have to determine when individual requests come in.

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