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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?

Disclaimer: Comments posted on this, or any story are opinions of those people posting them, and not the views or opinions of WWAY NewsChannel 3, its management or employees. You can view our comment policy here.


If I were Braves and Mandalay

I would pull proposal,this is too progressive for a simple-minded small town,who thinks small.
They have spent way too much time for what is other areas is a "slam dunk" and airtight proposition.

Those against a taxpayer

Those against a taxpayer funded stadium aren't simple-minded. Unlike you, they realize that you cannot spend money you don't have and believe that you can still flourish. As other people have said numerous times, the taxpayers of Wilmington will be assuming most of the risk. And it doesn't take a genius to see that if this was such an excellent business venture, then private investors would be lining up to pay for it. Maybe you are just too complex-minded to see the forest for the trees. Then again, maybe you're not complex-minded, just small-minded.

Awww...poor lil' Dukie...

..get his feelings hurt because nobody wants a useless baseball stadium? So he resorts to calling the Wilmington taxpayers "simple minded, small towners" and cries like a baby. What a t1rd!
Dukie, take your baseball, your "Braves", your stadium, your marina and pack it where the sun doesn't shine as you deliver it to a "more progressive area" and remain there with them! Got that?
You're nothing other than an arrogant, self serving, whiney butt developer with the same mentality as Ol' Hair Spray Saffo! You either listen to the citzens as taxpayers or we run you out of town. THAT is the way simple-mided, small town folk think AND behave! We're glad you're beginning to understand!!!

Exactly right Duke

You nailed it - a small town.
With a history of not supporting minor league AA teams in the past.
So the NSS report was flawed in that it overstated attendance estimates and therefore economic impact for this particular minor league-A team.
Our town is smaller than most every other minor league-A town, yet NSS said we'd have a higher attendance level as a percentage of population.
History says something Duke and you'd be wise to pay attention to it.

Best Regards

Exactly right Duke

You nailed it - a small town.
With a history of not supporting minor league AA teams in the past.
So the NSS report was flawed in that it overstated attendance estimates and therefore economic impact for this particular minor league-A team.
Our town is smaller than most every other minor league-A town, yet NSS said we'd have a higher attendance level as a percentage of population.
History says something Duke and you'd be wise to pay attention to it.

Best Regards

I Agree!!!

I agree 110%!!!! The people of Wilmignton are too stupid to realise this will be a great thing for them that will bring millions of tourists and their $$$ to this area. The thing holding the area back now is we need more things like stadiums and convention cntrs to make it grow. Noone wants to come here now because we dont have these things. Yes it will cost many, many millions of dollars and city may be in hole financilly now but you have to make sacrifices sometimes to get hte better things. Wilmington can borrow more money to make this work. Its Worth IT!! Broke sidewalks and potholes are small matters compared to fun and excitment of OUR OWN BALLTEAM.

But no. People here are too dumb. You are right. Braves should just go to a better town where ppl are smarter and understand this is best thing.


Stamp those little feet and have that tantrum!!

People have the right to say what they want their tax monies used for. To fix the infrastructure is way up on the scale of what government should be responsible for getting done. If you don't see it because of your childish want of another place to play baseball then I would take a moment to look in the mirror and see the stupid one....

You're predicting millions of tourists.....

....and you think that the people opposed to taxpayers paying for this stadium are stupid?



WWAY would have been better served to have hired a news director that reached higher than a junior level in Journalism. The fact that you cant get the story your way doesn't permit you to sower the reputation of the ABC Network. Surely you understand the sensitivity surrounding the talks between the City and Mandalay/Braves and others. The City, it's administration and Council are under no obligation to play this matter to the media. Publishing the fact that you make deals to officials just to gain advantage over other media outlets and use the premise that your motivation is noble to the citizens is cheap and underhanded.

What Else

The scope of questions went well beyond just baseball, but even if they were all about baseball, they were legitimate questions that any legitimate civic leader would have tried to respond to. At the very least, they could have responded with a "We really can't get into the specifics of that at this time, but we are aware of the concerns" or some other standard political boilerplate. Running, hiding, lying about being unavailable, these are things that create even more questions.

And yet..

And yet you are on WWAY at least once a week, reading and posting on the stories. If you find there level of journalism to be JUNIOR, then move on. Go elsewhere for your news. Easy solution right?

Thank You!

Thank you, WWAY, for writing this! These guys have gotten away with spending money we don't have for too long. Their financial irresponsibility seems to know no bounds - unless it means neglecting services that are necessary, rather than - as you so aptly put it - "sexy". If we all ran our household budgets like these people run the City, we'd be homeless.

These guys don't want any more light shined on their shenanigans, and questions like these make them REAL uncomfortable. I say, KEEP IT UP! Don't give them a moment when they're out in public that they're safe from these questions. Let them know we're aware of what they're doing and WE DON'T LIKE IT.

@ duke1981: First off, this is a PUBLIC event the MAYOR is attending,not a church function. He's there to smile for the camera and shake hands, not to pray for guidance. Secondly, he is Mayor 24/7. It is not a part time position. I wouldn't say bother him at home, but if he's out in public, he's fair game. Same goes for Cheat'em, Rivenbark, and the rest of the clown posse. (Except Laura Padgett. Thank her for her efforts and express your condolences for saddling her with the rest of these goofballs,0


I don't think you could bother Saffo at home if you tried. Doesn't he live within the gated walls of Landfall?

Best Regards

Oops, caught in a lie

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.

He meant he was out of town from another town, say Raleigh, not Wilmington.


Answering all those questions would take up too much space.
But there is one question there that is "damning" to the city just by being asked:

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?

This question in itself tells us why residents are so upset with the elected officials of this city. The convention center proposal was done much the same way this one was. Studies, surveys and monies being spent. Many people were scratching their heads wondering if Wilmington could compete with established convention centers in Myrtle Breach. The studies convinced council and us that yes indeed, Wilmington is considered a premiere destination place in SE North Carolina. Now we are staring at the possibility of taxpayers funding the center. We are on our 4th attempt at getting a hotel next door to the center - a hotel BTW that was touted at one time as being probably the easiest part of this project. Convention center? Oh those hotel company's will fall all over themselves trying to get the contract to be the CC hotel. Yet private financing has fallen through 3 previous times already.
Anyone who has followed this project knows how damaging it is to have deals fall through so when "Mandalanta" announced that private funding was off the table for now I shuddered remembering the previous hotel financing failures.
This is not all "Mandalanta's" fault. Part, if not all the fault lie with us and our elected officials. Wilmington has an identity problem. On one hand we want to maintain some small town southern charm with things like the Azalea festival. On the other hand we want to exhibit modern urban "charm" with things like the convention center. We want industry groups to come here and take note of what this area has to offer when they are gathering for conventions. We offer natural things like beaches, great weather, and then we offer small town southern charm. You can see the contrast. We want the steel and glass of companies like PPD, while maintaining the appearance of stately plantation mansions. We want the quiet of farm fields along with the hustle and bustle of a large metro area.
But private company's know this difference and know how to deal with the contrast. The Marriott builds a hotel at CB. Its full during season. Off season it offers some deals to keep the rooms full. It is right on the beach. Spring, summer and fall its profitable, and it makes do during slower winter months.
But it's privately financed, and there's no financial risk to the town of CB. THEY (the Marriott) did their own surveys and those surveys told them that our beaches are attractive and will bring people in for 3/4 of a year or 273 days.
The baseball surveys tried to tie in tourism as a justification for building the stadium when in fact, the stadium would COMPETE for attention with the beaches at the exact same time of the year - summer.
But the big difference is the cost. The CB hotels cost the townspeople nothing - in fact they generate room taxes. The convention center WILL cost the taxpayers money apparently as will this stadium.
If it was so popular (like our beaches) Mandalanta would build it themselves (like the hotels did).
The convention center and associated attempts at a hotel should tell us that there's only so much downtown Wilmington has to offer right now. I would rather see this land be used to attract a business to this area, as opposed to a tourist/entertainment entity. Heck, I'd approve incentives to make it happen - but not $40M. 7 years property tax free? No problem. This is down town, not a beach - and explains why Mandalanta wants us to foot the bill. They suspect, just like the Port City Roosters, that it might fail and they want NOTHING to do with the possibility of paying a 30 year mortgage on an unused stadium.

Best Regards


That you are VOG.

Blind and clueless

Yes, dukie you are.

Great Questions

What a great read, your questions would require some great answers which I am looking forward to reading in the near future!

I am sitting down here in Mobile Alabama where their Convention Center is a continuous drain on their budget and now their cruise terminal has no cruise ship so it is empty along with its parking garage but the some 20 million in outstanding loans that built it remain.

It is my hope that Wilmington remains a great place to live for both young and old, with no fear of being taxed out of their homes.

after getting beat

by WECT on the Lease story WWAY has a great story to tell about our secretive city officials.
Why the silence guys? Its tax money and you should be transparent in your business while going about securing this deal. The questions are not that hard to answer.
Now we have ANOTHER WWAY poll question about down town being more violent or not after a women had a purse stolen. Over whelming response is either same old violent downtown or the violence has increased. By a WIDE margin. This is not good for a place that supposedly will benefit from having a ball field in the area. How many of these families will want to spend time downtown when the perception is thats its a violent part of the city?

Best Regards


The council must live somewhere else and spend their day doing nothing but trying to come up with how they can annihilate our city. I mean really, why would any city want to do anything to make it more attractive to businesses and tourists. In fact, i say lets not pave any roads and just go back to using a horse and carriage. If you seriously can't figure out why anyone wouldn't want to do an interview with your tabloid channel, you need to get a clue.

Ha! Typical Saffo and his

Ha! Typical Saffo and his goons. They want the questions before hand so they can lie to the public, then when they see the questions they don't want to answer them because they're afraid.

Answer the tough questions Mr. Saffo, God only knows the liberal media won't ask them...


What do you think WWAY is if it isn't part of the media? Whoops, will that throw you off your talking points, Rush.

Tiny Town

If Braves and Mandalay back out it is because we are what the header reads,you can not please everyone and that is Why Wilmington will only grow with retirees and beach vagabonds.
Most people in this town are too simple-minded for this proposition that takes just a little bit of guts.

Good Riddance

Pearls before simple-minded swine, is that your position?
If the Braves and Mandalay take their ball and go home it won't be because we lack guts, it will be because we don't lack brains. By the way, I'm not interested in them backing out, I would prefer that they turn and run.


No if Mandalatlanta pulls out it will be because they saw through the "professional" and "thorough" NSS report that ignored the Port City Rooster debacle while overstating Wilmington's attendance projections.
Retirees and tourists are not bad for businesses Duke....but I'd rather see the city give away incentives to company's like PPD and Verizon who provided thousands of full time good paying jobs and who's impact is felt 365 days per year.
Not this 70 home game per year crap and we pay the full price for the stadium.
I'd rather they give away $40M in tax incentives to other good company's......
Simple minded? A little bit of guts?
Or too smart to play Mandalanta's game?

Best Regards


If I gave you 40 million in incentives,who could YOU bring here?
We have a tiny airport,no mass transit,a very small port in the global scope.
Who would re-locate 500-1000 people here with nothing but a beach to lure companies who are working,not relaxing.


Lets see Verizon closed the Morrisville NJ location to locate 200+ people here and now employ 10 times that many.
Here's where you are "lost"
Businesses operate 365 days a year and the people live and play here.
Mandalanta wants to provide 70 days worth of entertainment to those hard working folks.
Who is more important to Wilmingtons future? Thats right, company's like Verizon and PPD.
Why should we give Mandalanta 20 times the amount of incentives we gave to Verizon for a hundred workers versus 2000? For 70 days worth of entertainment versus year round economic impact?
YOU Duke are as bad as Saffo, Cheatham and Rivenbark. You do not answer questions just pledge a blind allegiance to the NSS report and Mandalanta.
You are absolutely correct that many local business amenities are lacking. Our airport is tiny, mass transit stinks, and the port is terrible. This is typical of a small city still in the throws of an economic down turn.
What is not typical is for a city of this size to throw $40M of incentives at an entertainment company. Stopping this is not close minded or small thinking. It's called being smart.

Best Regards


Not smart VOG stupid,who passes on a 20-30 year lease to change the skyline,status of 'Downtown'.
Stupidity,ingnorance runs deep in sleepy old southern towns.

What is is wrong with beach goers and retirees?

So are you saying retirees and beach loving people are a negative? I believe the only simple minded person in your statement is the one that is looking back at you in your bathroom mirror. Please think about what you wrote next time you are brushing and flossing.

Like it or not..

That is our demographic make-up,unfortunately.
Not what the "business " people need or want.