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Saffo, Cheatham, Rivenbark refuse to talk baseball, hotel, budget


WILMINGTON,NC (WWAY) -- It seems like our city leaders are afraid to talk about the baseball project and where it stands right now.

We thought it would be a good idea if we invited Mayor Bill Saffo and City Manager Sterling Cheatham over for an interview today.

We know that there are a lot of projects on the table right now, and a lot of numbers floating around, and that the people of Wilmington would like a clearer picture of what's going on with the baseball proposal, the convention center hotel proposal and the new budget.

We talked to Mayor Saffo yesterday and asked him to come over and sit down with us yesterday or today. He said he needed the questions first. We rarely do that, but we told him that because the interview was important to us, we would make an exception. We e-mailed them last night. Today, he wouldn't answer the request or return a text.

We also extended the same invitation to Cheatham. We were told he was too busy today. He was also too busy yesterday to return a text we sent him and a voice message we left him.

Even more interesting, we invited City Councilman Charlie Rivenbark to do an interview yesterday. He told us he was out of town and couldn't, but soon afterwards, our General Manager ran into him at Trolly Stop downtown.

We thought it was these guy's jobs to answer questions from the media. They may not like it and they may be hard questions, but if they're relevant to the people they serve, they should step up.

Here are the questions we sent to Mayor Saffo last night that he refuses to answer:


1) It's no secret Wilmington is still in a recession. We're running at around 10 percent unemployment. The NSS reports that the city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on says baseball won't necessarily be the right investment in Wilmington. The only scientific poll done on the issue says a huge majority of residents don't want to pay tax dollars to build a stadium. Trask/Flywheel pulled its private funding, which now leaves no baseball deal on the table. Mandalay apparently is being difficult to work with - setting unreasonable deadlines - even wanting to fine the city $50,000 A DAY if you agree to the next proposal but don't get it done in time. Are these the kind of people the city wants to work with? Help us understand why the city continues to explore this project?

2) Did the city ever sit down with the private financiers to work on a compromise?

3) Why do you think Mandalay wrote up a second lease agreement like that? Is that a normal negotiating tactic? Kevin O'Grady said Tuesday night that Mandalay was one of the premier companies to work with. Do you all really feel that way after reading the new lease agreement?

4) Why do you think Rich Neumann now refuses to talk with the media about the project? He was very open with us when this project started.

5) Why do you and the rest of council keep agreeing to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to explore a project the majority of residents say they don't want?

6) Sterling told you Tuesday night that some of the $355,000 approved would have to go to another feasibility study. You just did a feasibility study. Help us understand why we would need another one? Would you need to rehire NSS to work on more negotiations?

7) Where did the $40,000 to get the McCoy/Fulton proposition on the November ballot come from. The Board of Elections Director told us it would cost less than $1,000. Did anyone from the city call the Board of Elections to confirm the number? Why didn't you question the amount Tuesday night?

8) Where did the bond referendum idea come from? Wouldn't that still mean city residents would ultimately be paying for the stadium? There's no way the stadium would be completed by 2014 if it's voted on in November, right?

9) The Downtown site most likely will have some brownfield issues? Raeford Trask has said he isn't in favor of building on his land on Eastwood. Why is it still being talked about?

10) Capstrat is a very large powerful public relations firm in Raleigh. What is its role in this project?


1) Where did this extra $1 million sales tax come from? Why are we just now learning about it? Why weren't the hotel and baseball project budgeted for so the city could save this extra $1 million?

2) With that much extra sales tax, why was the city so adamant to annex Monkey Junction?


1) Sterling told you Tuesday night that the city was aware of the extra $137,000 needed to move forward on the Convention Center, but didn't include it in the budget. How does that happen?

2) Why are we having to spend another $137,000 to sell land behind the Convention Center? We're paying to sell land?

3) Why has this project been so difficult to button up?

4) If things stay the same, the hotel occupancy tax that is paying for the Convention Center will run out in 3-5 years. If this hotel project doesn't work out, will residents be on the hook for the Convention Center?


1) One of the city's main "normal" expenses is usually maintenance of roads, sidewalks, etc., yet you needed to raise taxes this year to complete this basic expectation of city government. What is the city spending money on that you have to raise taxes just to maintain roads and sidewalks?


1) The Parking Department's budget is at least $200,000 upside down this year, yet City Council took $60,000 that was "earmarked" for marketing downtown and gave it to a downtown group. How does the city give away money which technically doesn't exist?


The feedback we're getting here at the station is that there is a lack of vision on this council. It is going against the wishes of a majority of residents. We're falling behind on basic necessities but are wild about building sexier projects like the Convention Center, the Cross City Trail and now a ballpark. Is now really the right time to build a ballpark?

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For those who missed key components of NSS study....

They are below,again good research and facts of the deal,are critical...
National Sports Services draft report highlights


$36-42 million for construction, land, infrastructure
Costs for construction and land are comparable to preliminary estimates from Mandalay, but there may be some opportunities for savings either from a change in scope to the proposal, or from a more specific, detailed proposal when that becomes available.

Preferred location
Greater downtown area most preferred, followed by Eastwood Road corridor
Key factors include proximity to dining, hotels and other entertainment, as well as the potential to enhance existing and additional economic development, parking opportunities and existing infrastructure.

Economic Impact
City and County combined – over 20 years, estimated $313 million in new direct spending, $24.7 million new revenues, $451 million in new total output (City/County figures broken out as follows:)

■Estimated $242 million in total new output
■$168 million in new direct spending
■$19.3 million in new revenue
■Estimated $209 million in total new output
■$145 million in new direct spending
■$5.4 million in new revenue

Figures derived through multiplier effects of the team and ballpark output, including direct, indirect and induced spending. Sources for new revenues include lease payments, sales and property taxes, hotel taxes and admission taxes.

Total of 6,412 new one -year full and part-time jobs earning $138 million
■City – 3,481 jobs that would generate an estimated $76 million in new personal earnings
■County – 2,931 jobs that would generate an estimated $62 million in new personal earnings

Intangible benefits
National/regional media exposure, affordable entertainment, enhanced community pride

■Strong regional draw with military bases and nearby beaches as enhancements
■60% of market within 15 miles, equaling 255,000 residents; another 30% draw within 30 miles, equaling 348,000 residents
■Recommend 6,000-seat stadium; average seating at ballparks in comparable markets is just over 6,100 seats, with a range of 4,500-8,100
■Our demographics in same range as comparable ballparks

Public Support/funding
On average, public funding accounts for 59% of minor league baseball developments built since 1995
If Wilmington follows this model, the public investment would be $25.4 million, assuming the project would cost a total of $42 million. Mandalay would contribute $16.6 million through annual payments of $400,000 a year and other partners would need to be identified to contribute another $7.4 million.

Citizen funding support
53% of survey respondents indicated they would be willing to pay up to $2 a month for the ballpark

Mandalay return on investment
An estimated 18% profit margin in the first year, stabilizing at 10% by fifth year of operation and then an average 7.1% return over the life of a 20-year lease

Potential partners
Nearby real estate development, free or discounted land contribution, UNCW or others as tenants, other governmental partners, corporate fundraising, private donors, foundation grants

Other activities for ballpark
Comparable ballparks host youth, high school and college baseball, concerts, graduations, religious events, food festivals, private functions, movie nights, professional soccer games

Number of events
Comparable ballparks hosted an average of 153 events each year

Attendance at comparable parks is 3,796 per game, with a range from 2,449-5,612

Comparable parks
Cedar Rapids Kernels, Fort Wayne Tin Caps, Greensboro Grasshoppers, Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Winston-Salem Dash

Tied to level of funding commitment; size of project can be scaled down, but benefits and return on investment diminish accordingly



Sales job

I have been reading the NSS report trying to find some consistancies on the figures they use and there are some statistics that should tell our city leaders why this isn't such a good idea:
From pg 19:

Relative to 48 other full‐season Class A markets, the Wilmington market ranks in the bottom half in terms of population (42nd), median age (39th), median income (35th) and corporate base (42nd).   

Notice how they phrased it? We rank in the bottom half? While technically correct we do rank in the bottom 15% when it comes to population.
They use a 30 mile radius when talking demographics but they use 35 miles when doing the comparison to other Class A teams in one of this lists.
They then say the area has s strong military presence that should help attendance when those areas are 70 plus miles away. My question on this is why not go 120 miles and include the Raleigh metro area as well?
Heres the statistic that should be useful to Council from pg 18
The average pop. within a 30 mi radius averages out to be 1,211,336 for all 49 teams
The MEAN is 675,839
Wilmington is at 348,000 (I rounded it off)

There is no way the economic impact of the stadium here could be compared to others within the league when in fact our population is half of the mean.
But our small size will impact other areas of the report to include non tenant use of the stadium. Most other stadiums referenced in the report have fairly extensive HS/Youth/College baseball usage, yet the report indicates in another section that Wilmington has far less potential for that, and for THOSE events I would suspect, based upon our population that our attendance would be far less (like half) for non tenant use.

We cannot support an investment of this size - 33% of our annual budget, when our population is half that of the mean average for all teams. This is why Mandalantas 18% is based on minimal financial outlay of their own, upfront.
Now consider this.
If the employees are city/county do we wish to be on the hook for pensions and healthcare for these public servants? They would pay us $75K annually for maintenance so I assume the employees performing this maintenance to be government employees.
This requires a large outlay for taxpayers. IF these are in fact government employees then the city's outlay stretches out far beyond 30 years when you look at pensions.
I thought we were trying to shrink government and reduce debt.

Best Regards

Nice Try Vog

you take facts and figures right from the NSS report; you research other markets; it's as plain as a nose on someone's face this is not the drop dead, lay down, money fount which the proponents have attempted to portray.

Even in his presentation, the NSS rep stated this might not be a good investment for Wilmington. And anyone with half a brain should know this was the first steps in creating their legal defense when this albatross flounders and beaches itself at the taxpayers' feet.

And yet, the proponents will somehow try to defend this travesty; and in doing so try to use personal attacks rather than hard facts.

It causes you to wonder if they are depending on this ball park for future employment or to garner a commission from the sale of the overpriced riverfront.

Now it's time for the opposition to spew forth some personal attacks.

Do not be confused,nor confuse others..

In a 3 county radius there are 362,000 people.
New Hanover,Pender,Brunswick
In a 7 radius the above 3 plus..
Bladen,Columbus,Sampson,Onlslow this swells to 752,000 people.

This per 2010 census.
The 3 county population supposed to grow about 90,000 more by 2022.
I am not sure where you get your facts but these are the "facts" and demographics that lead Mandalay to consider Wilmington.
The research has been done numerous times,we can not accept your "VOODOO" methods.
I hope you were not a marketing major,I was and do it daily.

Hey Duke

I got those figures as stated in the post from Pg 19 of the thorough and professional report by NSS.
And please if you want to add the 7 additional counties by all means go ahead but then do it to all the cities for the league. NSS used a 35 mi radius and was at least consistent on that for population figures but then tried to say that military bases over 70 miles away was "another" positive for attendance figures.
Didn't you READ the NSS report Duke?
Wilmington is a small market - it ranks in the bottom 5 of all markets.
Thats why Atlanta wants US to pay for it.
Because if attendance isn't what they hoped it would be they can pick up and move.
Just like the Port City Roosters did Duke. AA Seattle. Attendance was counted in the hundreds Duke - in a facility with a capacity of 3100.
We didn't support them then
We won't support them now

The difference is we didn't have $40M in debt hanging over our heads when the team left.

Thats not voodoo economic Duke
Did you flunk marketing by chance? Because you sure don't take into account previous attempts at baseball here

Best Regards

I know it's not a direct

I know it's not a direct comparison since it's a completely different league and setup, but what is the average attendance for the Wilmington Sharks? I remember when the Roosters were in town and the attendance is poor.

I would like to add something with the greater Wilmington area factors y'all were talking about. The people in the southern part of Brunswick County would not be likely attending any sporting events in Wilmington on a regular basis. The Pelicans' stadium in Myrtle Beach is an easier drive. There are no issues with parking. The immediate area has better options for dining and other activities. Also, the people who attend the Pelican's games won't have to worry as much about their cars getting broken into and will feel safer walking to their cars after a night game.

I think the other fella mentioned spreading the numbers out to include Columbus County as well. Given an option between Myrtle Beach and Wilmington, the residents of Columbus County, at leas as far north as Whiteville, are more likely to go to Myrtle Beach as well.

Consider the Source

Chuck, as Vog stated, he got those figures from the NSS report. Are you saying NSS uses "VOODOO" methods? If so, you'll certainly get no argument from me.

that explains a lot

Now we know why you keep trying to sell this pig in a jacket to the taxpayers. We are wise enough to see through the bs you and city council are trying to push.

Read the report

I quoted Mandalay.
Or are you saying their report is flawed Chuck?

Best Regards

Question for Saffo

You said during your campaign that you would say "no" to a taxpayer funded stadium because Wilmington cannot afford it. What happened between the election and now to enable Wilmington to afford a taxpayer funded stadium?

Now this:

The NEW San Francisco 49ers stadium
Total cost $1.2B
The county had promised funding of $40M through a redevelopment act. $10B had been spent,leaving $30M free cash.
The county has re-appropriated the funds to cover education etc

The 49ers?
A storied franchise. Many games sold out
Popular as all get out
The county had promised 33% funding.
Now its less than 10% - due to tough times.
Here Mandalay is asking for 100% financing (right now) for a questionable attendance figure given our history with the Roosters.

Economic tough times trump building entertainment venues.
And you wonder why or how Fulton/McCoy could get so many signatures so fast?

This project needs to die before we spend anymore money

Best Regards

Horrible Example

Seriously try again as the NFL has only 32 teams,most in huge markets.
All are extremely profitable,and not all are private financed,they have a rediculous per-capita income,corporations who will pay almost any price for FOOTBALL.
Compare Apples and Apples please.
Yankee Stadiun was new 1.4 billion 100% public financed BASEBALL stadium for a private/select team.
For every rediculous example you cite,we have many more successes than failures.
The "FEAR" element has seized your grasp to understand facts at hand.
Quit living in,spreading 'The FEAR".
What are you afraid of?
Success for or City and Area?

You Voted For Them!!!

Subject Line Says It All...
Sounds Like Nothing But Thieves for Special Interests...
Downtown Council? Hotel Tax? Baseball Stadium Research Groups? Road Taxes? Forced Annexations ex. MJ!

Remember Their Names Not Their Party Affiliation At The Ballots!
Don't Be So Dense Wilmington Voters!!!

Slam Dunk

The demographics spell out we are the perfect fit for single-A baseball.
So why fight it,enjoy it.

If you are right

If you are right about this:
"The demographics spell out we are the perfect fit for single-A baseball."

Then DON'T fight it


To misquote Field of Dreams
"If you pay for it they will come"

And of course they won't pay for it Duke.
Because the demographics don't support it!

Best Regards

So you doubt professional judgement

Mandalay,NSS and others have done "professional and neutral" marketing studies about Baseball in Wilmington.
All test 'POSITIVE"
So where are you getting your market data from.
There are 362,000 people in a 30 minute radius from downtown,752,000 in a 1 hour drive from Wilmington and Visitors,Tourists,Convention Goers,Baseball fans as well.
So a few groups,professional have studied this for the past 2-9 years,let me see your counter-facts.
I can only listed to credible sources,you are in-credible but in a bad way.
So just saying odd things will not suffice.
You have NO VERIFIABLE evidence.

Re Slam Dunk

Keep dreaming Chuck, the November wake up is coming......

Got to hand it to dumb (Ben)

Got to hand it to dumb (Ben) and dumber (Josh), they are doin a good job of trying to take the focus off of themselves and crazy conspiracies that everybody and everything wrong but them and whole world corrupt. But can't believe Ch. 3 fell for it and took their spoon fed questions hook, line and sinker. Why isn't anybody asking why didn't Ch.3 ask these questions BEFORE council votes on budget and other stuff like other media did? oh yeah, they had to wait until dumb and dumber told them what to ask. What a joke!

Change channel or online forum

If you like liberal tax and spend politicians , you read the Red Star. If you like news regurgitation read from a teleprompter , you watch WECT-TV 6. If you like conservative opinions , you tune in your radio dial. WWAY TV3 is the only news outlet asking LEGITIMATE questions concerning the city of Wilmington's finances and the ballpark. The NSS feasiblilty study is a bunch of pie in the sky garbage paid for by the city.You are the pot calling the kettle black and your judgement has been altered by sniffing jock straps.These clowns running the city can continue to run but they can't out run reality....there is no dividends for the taxpayer by building a ballpark for multi-millionaires.

For Can't Believe

@ Guest 788
All Ben and Josh did was keep the Mayor and City Council from shoving this project down the tax payers throats. There will now be an election to decide this issue. All I've heard from Chuck and Terry are how 70% of the people want this, how your polls are the only ones that count. You discount what anyone that does not agree with you says, put down their education, their lack of enlightenment, and even where they live in the area. You claim single A ball is so much better than anything else we have now and how dare anyone dispute what you think. You are mad there will actually be an election because in your selfish minds this project should have happened and the tax payers should just pay and keep their opinions to themselves. Well......What are you worried about? According to your propaganda this should be passed by an overwhelming majority of the voters. I believe you are worried because you saying it does not make it the truth. The people will see through the distortions and just plain lies of a few selfish people. The people will say NO to turning Wilmington into a Welfare Center for billionaires. The voters are going to reject this. The bond issue will fail. In the end, there will be 100's of thousands of dollars once again wasted by city government. The same government that has to raise taxes to pay for necessary projects Wilmington needs. If Mandalay and the Braves have not left before the election, the voters will show them the door. Hopefully some of the “so called city leaders” will be shown the same exit.

If the referendum reads like

If the referendum reads like the petition does, then the vote in November will not be a cut-and-dried, yes or no, regarding the stadium. The wording is too ambiguous to give a straight yes or no answer. I don't want a taxpayer funded stadium, but I couldn't vote for the referendum because as it reads, Legion Stadium could be in jeopardy of losing its funding and where would that leave New Hanover High School for its home football games. The petition should have been limited to this stadium or all future stadiums, but it didn't and I wouldn't vote for it.

The biggest problem with this petition is that if it gets voted down, then the City Council will take it as a taxpayer supported stadium, which will not be the case.

But this we know

More "baseball" fans,than "non-baseball" fans.
That is not the issue,so call it "Baseball" we call it using a "multi-use Stadium for Economic Development".
Whatever it takes to progreess the area is fine.
the "Baseball" side will carry the vote.

Multi - use????

That is not the issue,so call it "Baseball" we call it using a "multi-use Stadium for Economic Development".

Yeah right.
The only solid support for multi-use may be UNCW according to sect 6 of the NSS report. And THAT would only be pre and post season play
CFCC doesn't have a team
High school baseball would be out due to budget problems

The Azalea festival concert? Maybe

Here's a though for you. The downtown concert series is very popular. NSS said "hey move it into our stadium". Concert promoters said "Now we will charge admission."
Uh hello? Anyone home? Do you think its even remotely possible that these concerts are popular because they're FREE?

Section 6 contains so much pie in the sky wishful thinking its pathetic.
NSS compiled a lot of statistics but when it came to economic impact and development they had to rely on estimates and surveys. They used terms like possible, expressed an interest, could etc etc etc.
Now here's where incentives for company's differ.
They bring in say 2000 jobs. They know their average salary that will be paid. Thats good, solid numbers.
Whereas NSS had to use estimates. The down town location is both a blessing and a curse to this project. Sure NSS believes it to have the best chance for economic impact but the down town area is also a Jeckyl and Hyde location. During the day its bustling - at night its a bar scene. Many residents perceive it to be a violent area. This is not seen as a safe place for family entertainment venues.
Add to the fact that Wilmington would be one of the smallest (by population) metro areas to have a stadium and you can see that economic impact may be over stated. Their own figures show non tennant use to be estimated to be 150 events but the mean league average is 120 or 20% less than the estimated numbers. And in comparable cities youth, HS and college baseball make up MOST of the non tennant events. Here youth baseball attracts only several hundred attendees and as stated before no HS baseball and only pre and post season college (post season college baseball would NOT be yearly as there'd be a lot of competition to host CAA tourneys).
The BEST non tennant use appears to be Hammerheads soccer. They average 4,000 per game at Legion according to NSS - yet, they don't WANT to leave Legion Stadium. I wonder why that is?
Over whelming estimates of economic impact and under whelming support for public funding makes for a possible disastrous adventure into minor league baseball- AGAIN. Considering how the first adventure turned out we need to look at this with eyes wide open..

Best Regards

Why not leave Region

The Hammerheads would leave Legion but can not because..
1.The pitchers mound would have to be shaves down,rebuilt after each game.
This takes alot of time,as well as costs.
The dimensions of Legion for Soccer,is better for spectators than a vaseball stadium with odd angles.
2.Costs---the Hammerheads pay ONLY $850.00 per game to use Legion,the Field Turf cost $800,000 and the primary reason,aside of mound is that cost structure would drastically change.
3.Multi-use---there 70 baseball games singla-A, and some UNCW/HIGH school games.
Every other day is a chance to handle a concert,special event,company pic-nics,job-fairs,events like "relay for life,'MS wallks",azalea concerts,Christmas Tree Fests,Beer fests..and it will be the "magnet" and "focal" point for downtown.

Mandalay are professionals,in their 6 other mino-league teams they do the same thing 365/7

So,all we can do is look at past history,successes

Right Again!!!

You are right again,people will flokc to poles to vote FOR "baseball".We know what we want and we will vote for it! Vote YES for baseball + progress!!!

Keep Dreaming

@ Chuck & yesyes
Keep dreaming, your wake calls will happen in November. There are 5.1 billion reasons to vote no on this stadium.

Guest 788/MrT/Duke

WWAY does trail WECT when it comes to popular local news stations. And while its OK to criticize the media outlets in THIS situation WWAY went out of its way to try to get Saffo et al on camera to answer the questions. I agree that these questions should have been asked at the council meetings but in group settings getting a chance to ask questions and follow up questions is difficult especially when you are recognized as "media" in these meetings.
But WE are voters and they are elected officials as such they should take every opportunity to answer questions to assure the voters that they have their best interests at heart. Their group refusal does nothing but add to our impression that they are inept when large deals such as this come along. This ineptness stems from other large deals such as the convention center which may end up costing taxpayers millions more than anticipated.
They should have anticipated tough questions, it's part of their job and this is a contentious issue - it's $40M of "contentious".
Their failure to answer the written questions is troubling......

Best Regards

With all your air Time WWAY should be ahead

Your 1 vote counts,just like November.

Majority of residents say they don't want ballpark?

Question 5) "Why do you and the rest of council keep agreeing to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to explore a project the majority of residents say they don't want?"

I thought the surveys I saw said that more people were for the stadium than against and said they were willing to pay more for it... What am I missing?

Also, isn't this a leading question like "when did you stop beating your spouse?"


Actually you didn't miss anything.
The original survey asked if people would want a baseball team here and the natural response was yes.
When asked about using public funds for it though, the story is far different.

Seventy percent of the registered voters responding to the poll opposed a city-financed $40 million ballpark, with only 20 percent supporting the idea. Nine percent were unsure. Opposition crossed the gender gap: 73 percent of the men and 69 percent of the women opposed a city-funded field.

This was ONLY 300 voters so I don't accept it as being totally accurate.
However when you see the comments on WECT news articles, and comments here, AND add in the petition drive and how easy it was to collect those signatures and it should be apparent to ALL concerned that baseball is wanted here but not at taxpayers expense.
BTW the article above was from March 7 so opposition has been around since the beginning, not as a result of any negative press from WWAY.

I would like to see this thing go to the voters with the best possible deal being put forth prior to the vote. That way we will see how much risk Mandalanta is willing to accept. If the NSS survey is to be believed as accurate they will have no qualms about funding this on their own.

Best Regards