City council tours Durham Bulls ballpark

A handful of Wilmington City Council members visited the Durham Bulls Athletic Park Friday to hear about the city's experiences with their minor league baseball team and stadium.
A handful of Wilmington City Council members visited the Durham Bulls Athletic Park Friday to hear about the city's experiences with their minor league baseball team and stadium.
Council members received a tour of the ballpark, heard about the effectiveness of the stadium and the team's financial impacts, as well as learned about the history of the area surrounding the stadium.
Council members received a tour of the ballpark, heard about the effectiveness of the stadium and the team's financial impacts, as well as learned about the history of the area surrounding the stadium.
Commissioner Barfield at home plate
Commissioner Barfield at home plate

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – A handful of Wilmington City Council members visited the Durham Bulls Athletic Park Friday to hear about the city's experiences with their minor league baseball team and stadium.

WECT's Ashlea Kosikowski went along with council members, where they received a tour of the ballpark, heard about the effectiveness of the stadium and the team's financial impacts, as well as learned about the history of the area surrounding the stadium.

Additionally, Durham business leaders and Bulls' representatives gave a presentation and answered council members' questions.

The tour of the ballpark comes after an invitation extended by Durham Mayor Bill Bell, who said that in 1995, Durham built the park, despite public opposition.

Voters turned down a referendum to build the stadium for the Bulls, who were considering leaving town at the time.

However, Bell says it ended up being a great decision and encourages Wilmington to do the same, adding that more than $1.2 billion dollars has been invested in downtown since the city built the ballpark.

He noted that many private businesses have opened up shop in the American Tobacco complex, a building right across the street.

The city used COPs to fund the stadium, even after voters said they didn't want it.

"The stadium has 100 games a year, plus 20 private events and usually one concert," said Bell.

George Habel, who is the executive vice president of the company that owns and manages the team, says games draw in anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 fans per weekend triple-header, with half coming in from neighboring Wake County.

City leaders in Durham said they believed it was possible to replicate their success in the Port City.

"You've even got a better setting than we have here in Durham," said Bell. "You have a riverfront. We don't have that in Durham. You are dealing with a reputable organization trying to bring a team to downtown Wilmington. I think you have all the ingredients that you need to have."

Commissioner Jonathan Barfield was in on the discussions held, and plans to report back to the county on the trip.

He says he would like to see the county pitch in to help make it happen, and that putting county money toward the cause is not out of the question.

Saffo said that council's upcoming April meeting, they will vote to hire a consulting firm to better look at the project and how to fund it.

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