Ballpark debate sparks fireworks from both sides

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Submitted: Fri, 10/26/2012 - 3:49am
Updated: Fri, 10/26/2012 - 4:18pm

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — WWAY and WHQR hosted the only baseball stadium debate Thursday night. Appropriately, with a big game comes fireworks, and the exchange was full of them.

“That’s opportunity, and it’s knocking at our door,” Wilmington City Councilman Kevin O’Grady said while knocking on the table.

City leaders have answered that door, and voters will decide whether it stays open or closes. The big leaguers stepped up to the plate Thursday night. On the yes side, Councilman O’Grady and Mayor Bill Saffo. On the opposing was the “Vote No Tax Stadium” group’s Scott Harry and Jim Rafferty.

The debate was marked by starkly different stances. The two sides clashed on whether the ballpark would spark direct spending and economic development.

“Go look it up. Go look up stadium economists, and you’re gonna see page after page after page. They all say the same thing: it doesn’t work,” Harry said.

O’Grady countered, saying, “$168 million over 20 years. That’s $8 million a year.”

Mayor Saffo compared the potential success in Wilmington to that of other ballparks in North Carolina cities such as Durham and Fayetteville. He also voiced his disdain for how city leaders have been targeted in the community.

“Never before have I seen a group of elected officials vilified in the community because we are just bringing this up for discussion to ask you to make a decision in the democratic process,” Saffo said.

O’Grady says the deal will put the taxpayer debt at $44 million over a 20-year period. The “Vote No” group argued that number is higher, at $75 million, which sparked heated banter.

“You have overstated the debt,” O’Grady said.

Harry fired back.

“Great,” he said. “This is the first time you’ve said the tax rate would drop.”

The current agreement between the city and Mandalay and the Braves calls for a two and half cent increase for homeowners, per 100 dollars of property value. O’Grady says that rate will gradually decrease over the life of the loan.

When city leaders were asked if baseball would die if the referendum fails on Election Day, Mayor Saffo said, “I believe so. We’re the only ones here at the table.”

Councilman O’Grady echoed the mayor’s stance.

“There will be no votes to do any other thing, because this is it,” O’Grady said.

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32 Comments on "Ballpark debate sparks fireworks from both sides"

2015 years 8 months ago

Apparently you’ve been living in kool-aid’ville if you think the ONLY reason is because it’s a tax increase.
It is NOT the function of government, at any level, to build a building for a private enterprise. They can, do, and should offer incentives to attract businesses to an area. The city has over stepped it’s bounds in this regard.
Second job creation. You ARE aware that NSS is a flawed study. They counted 125 jobs for 25 years and added them together to come up with thousands of jobs. After questioning by council they admitted the error and now we know the actual figures are 25 to 35 full time jobs with some part tie jobs also created inside the stadium. Ancillary industries that might benefit from this stadium are bars and restaurants who pay their employees LESS than minimum wage and retail industries who may see a bump up in business if, and this is a big if, if the downtown businesses agree to stay open past their current hours of 630pm. So far none that I know of are agreeing to this. The job creation is a myth.
Concerts? Even NSS says 1 per year. The average # of concerts at comaparable ball parks is 1 or 2. High school baseball coaches have already told NSS that they would not do it because of tight budgets. UNCW will continue to use Brooks and the AVERGE number of miscellaneous events is very VERY small. And when you think about it these events would take place whether the stadium was built, or not.
Civic pride? Were we proud of the Waves? The Roosters? Are we NOW proud of the Sharks? The answer is no attendance was and is dismal. But I am not against baseball per se so I will say it could be source of pride.
So it seems it’s more than about tax increase – far more.
But thats OK, think what you wish


Rick Wilson
2015 years 8 months ago

OH……BTW…….that knocking sound O’Grady made last night………that was the final nails being driven into the coffin containing this stadium project and Saffo’s and O’Grady’s political careers.

2015 years 8 months ago

Its almost criminal the lack of sidewalks all over Wilmington even in established neighborhoods. All around UNCW students have to walk around dodging cars as there seems to be basically no sidewalks. Please Mr Mayor lets do something better with tax money that will help the citizens on a daily basis and maybe even save a few lives!

2015 years 8 months ago

the Roosters management had not done its homework. They apparently factored in beer revenue as part of their funding; and only after signing everything did they realize there were no beer sales allowed at the UNCW ballpark.

Support the Wilmington Sharks; good quality baseball for developing players and they allow beer sales at Legion Field if that is a factor.

math reality
2015 years 8 months ago

Wilmington metro is roughly 200,000 population. These cities Saffo & OGrady touted are 5 times the size of our area! Bill Saffo’s schoolboy fantasy of carrying his family torch of mega hotel entrepreneur is what drives all these illogical money-wasting tax burden projects. Send him home to play games with his own checkbook.