WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- Wilmington City Council has unanimously approved a plan to negotiate with Mandalay Baseball Properties and the Atlanta Braves about bringing a minor league baseball team to the Port City.
During an hour-long pitch to council, the groups claimed Wilmington is part of "Atlanta Braves Country," which makes Wilmington a natural fit. The presentation included Braves General Manager Frank Wren and former Braves Manager Bobby Cox, as well as a video on the Braves that featured a list of minor league affiliates including the "Wilmington Braves."
Rich Newmann, president of baseball development for Mandalay Properties says they have been interested in the Wilmington market for a decade. In the past year alone, he's been to the Port City 27 times.
“I've met with every city council member, every county commissioner multiple times, information sharing and information gathering,” said Newmann.
If approved by City Council, the Atlanta Braves and Mandalay Baseball partnership would enter into a 20-year guaranteed lease with the City of Wilmington.
However, the big talk and big names did not persuade everyone.
“Why is it fair that because a handful of people love baseball that they could tax all of us? It doesn't seem right,” said Mary Mason, who spoke in front of City Council.
Wilmington Sharks owner Darrell Handelsman says if the Braves came to Wilmington, they would kill business for the Sharks.
“As a small business person you feel like this big corporation is coming in and taking what we've built up for 16 years and now we're going to get the city all of a sudden to support them, the government and it's disappointing,” he said.
The city now has a six-month period to negotiate with Mandalay and the Braves on a public/private partnership to plan for, finance, develop and construct a ballpark in the city. The Braves want to bring their high-level Class A team in the Carolina League to town. That team is currently the Lynchburg (VA) Hillcats.
The question now is how the city will pay for it. Mayor Bill Saffo says constructing the estimated $40 million stadium could mean a property tax hike. Councilwoman Laura Padgett and Councilman Earl Sheridan said they support exploring the possibility, but they are not sure Wilmington taxpayers should have to pay for the stadium on their own.