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.


  • Vog46 says:

    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 says:

    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.

  • RickUSA says:

    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!

  • SurfCityTom says:

    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 says:

    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.

  • Vog46 says:

    are always problematic and the NSS survey used them throughout their report to JUSTIFY the numbers they came up with trying to convince US to approve this stadium.
    Fort Wayne is a great example because they averaged 1200 to 1300 more attendees per ball game than anyone else in the comparison markets so when NSS said we should achieve X amount of market penetration the numbers were actually overstated. I believe by 30%
    If you take just Fort Wayne out of that table the average attendance drops by 1000 per game for the rest of the teams and the predicted average for Wilmington drops as well. (NSS – chapter 6 pg 72) The same thing happens with other events(NSS chapter 6 pg 75). The top team is so far head of everyone else it’s an obvious aberration – that is used to RAISE the averages.
    NSS was deliberately trying to raise the expectations of success in Wilmington by adjusting the numbers to suit they’re desired outcome.
    Number of jobs was overstated
    Number of other events was overstated
    Number of attendees in comparable markets was over stated

    Because of this the economic impact s very much over stated.


  • PublicAvenger says:

    20 years ago, the Port City Roosters, were going to “put us on the map”. They were going to “pay for themselves”, and “bring millions to our local economy”. All they did was bust, after 2 seasons. The whole 2nd season, you could walk-in, for free, and watch a meaningless game, with less then 1000 other people.

    I think the City, UNC-W, and the Seattle Mariners, lost about 4 million dollars, when you add it all up. What a horrible waste of money this new stadium will be.

  • John B says:

    The issue of building a “Baseball” stadium in Wilmington, NC is broader than just baseball. While the sport of baseball may be the main attraction at the new stadium during the spring and summer months, it will also host community events year round. It will become Wilmington’s largest concert venue. The annual Azelea Festival’s events could/would be held there. It can host both high school and college sporting events. The list is long for the types of events that can be brought to the Greater Wilmington community, for which we currently have no venue.

    Shorter term benefits, such as job creation, are greatly needed within New Hanover County. Job creation spurred by new development, such as the proposed stadium and the development of the Downtown Cape Fear Riverfront, provide local residents more disposable income to spend within our community. This creates a ripple effect leading to more long term benefits such as local business growth and expansion, attracting new business into the local economy, decrease in unemployment/underemployment, less reliance on social services, increase population to the area, increase for new housing, rise in local tourism, etc..etc..etc.

    I can think of numerous reasons why Wilmington residents SHOULD vote YES on the Stadium Tax referendum, but I’ve only heard one reason as to why we shouldn’t vote YES; that is, an increase of 2.5 cents per $100.00 of home value (an average of $4.00 per month). I (as much as anyone else in Wilmington, NC.) don’t need a tax increase and am feeling the impact of the recession of the past few years just like many other local residents. However, it is my opinion that this is a very small amount to pay (invest), for the potential reward to all of us who live, work, and contribute to the Greater Wilmington community.

    Lastly, the Stadium will provide affordable family entertainment, and serve as a source of civic pride.

    Please vote “YES” on November 6th, 2012 for the Stadium Tax, and make a small investment in your community’s future. Those of you who have been living in Wilmington longer than the past 10 years have seen some significant changes within the community (most good, few not so much). Imagine what Wilmington can become in the next 10-20 years if we, her citizens, continue to make investments/improvements in the city we love to call “home”.

  • fleebailey says:

    You will be annexed long before the loan is paid off. Your remark was funny!

  • Vog46 says:

    What O’Grady and Saffo failed to realize is that at its core the city is still asking for a voluntary tax increase to fund a private enterprise. This is what voters a mostly mad about. You can get voters to approve tax increases for roads an schools but not this
    O”Grady then offered no facts to back up is claim of increased revenues. Scott scored big points on this.

    The Saffo statement about public leaders being villified came off as a “poor me” statement. My Mayor? Councilman O”Grady? All you have to do is look at the convention Center and you’ll figure out why you’re being villified for this. This is the second time you’ve come to the voters looking for money to support something that is supposedly good for the city. The convention center is an abysmal failure so far – so why should you be trusted? Why should we let you off the hook?

    And finally the comment about this being over when it’s voted down? Sorry but thats smoke and mirrors.
    It WOULD be over as far as the city is concerned but there is a county alternative out there that would cost the taxpayers NOTHING! Minor League rules say we can’t discuss it until THIS offer is voted down and the MOU expires.
    While I believe that the exchange about the bonds was won by Saffo and O’Grady the fact that it was just brought up now hurts the PRO cause because of the mistrust we have for both men. Most voters do not understand bond issues and this ALSO leads to mistrust. This is why the city should have put the final agreement out there.

    Again – at its core this is the politicians asking for TAX monies to fund a questionable, private enterprise project AFTER doing the same thing for the failing convention center.
    They won on the bonds but lost on the economic development discussions. Saffo and O’Grady lose on trustworthiness.


  • Vog46 says:

    Success of ball parks in Durham and Fayetteville?
    Considering the MiLB team moved out of Fayetteville recently I’d be surprised if this was right. The Fayetteville Generals – a success? Wow.
    Reporter error – or did the Mayor screw up?

    How can you call a stadium a success if it’s losing money?
    John Hinnant even said that on the Star News comments on editorials which I quoted the other day that the Durham stadium LOSES money.
    And this is a success?
    No wonder why we don’t trust them with our money.


  • gsquared says:


    We missed this and would love to see it. Are you planning to put it up on your site?

  • taxpayer says:

    As a city resident and property owner, I really don’t give a flying flip what your thoughts are…you’re not affected.

  • guesty says:

    Too bad you don’t get to vote on it. Remember, parts of the county didn’t want to be in the city (and I don’t blame them)

  • Guest #1 says:

    As a county resident, I fully support the city tax increase for this stadium.

  • Rick Wilson says:

    A point to ponder from last night’s debate:

    “”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.”

    The debt service the city will pay on a 54 million dollar loan is 2.7 million dollars per year for 20 years. If, and that is a huge if, the city did see 168 million dollars in other revenue outside of the stadium that will equal 8 million dollars a year. The 8 million dollars is money spent at area businesses, not 8 million that is handed to the city. The only revenue the city will see is sales tax from these sales. 6.25% of 8 million dollars is 520 thousand dollars. Keep in mind that the city does not get to keep all of this. It gets sent to the State and then gets divided up between the county and cities located within the county.

    So you can see the tax payers are not trading 2.7 million dollars for 8 million dollars, they are trading 2.7 million dollars for a portion of 520 thousand dollars per year. Let’s say for arguments sake that the city did get all of the 520 thousand in new sales tax revenue. If you add that to the 500 thousand Mandalay will pay each year for rent, you get 1.2 million dollars per year. Subtract that from 2.7 million dollar stadium payment and you are left with a 1.5 million dollar loss each year for the tax payers to absorb. It is more than that because the city does not get to keep all of that sales tax revenue and the 168 million dollars in new sales is pure conjecture. There are no guarantees other than the tax payers are the big losers even if all of the Mayor and Councilman O’Grady’s predictions/dreams come true. The other point Councilman O’Grady left out of his glowing claim of profits is the fact that the stadium does not pay property taxes when it is owned by the city.

    The only way this becomes an asset to the community is if it is privately financed, owned and operated. The government collects property taxes and whatever sales tax revenue it “REALLY” produces. The government/tax payers do not pay a 2.7 million dollar loan payment plus the maintenance and upkeep costs.

  • Guest1026 says:

    Does anyone else think that Kevin O’Grady is a jerk? He is one of the most arrogant, condescending, rude persons I have ever seen! His snide comments to Mr. Harry were unwarranted, but I guess that’s the only way he knows to try to force people to his viewpoint. Didn’t work for me, in fact it made me a little angry. Sorry to vilify, Mr. Mayor, but this is NOT the way to win people over to the side of big spending…..

  • Guest6858 says:

    How long will it take before you guys realize that until you get these people out of office, nothing will change. Stop talking and start doing!

  • Over Taxed says:

    It is too bad that our Mayor and City Council did not spend the time and effort into maintaining our water/sewer system and roads as they spend on pet projects such as the convention center and baseball stadium. Their first priority should be to maintain critical infrastructure and the more recreational projects should only be considered in a sunny day situation (certainly not with the current economy).

    Through the many years of paying taxes I assumed that our local government was being responsible and setting aside funds to maintain critical infrastructure. We have all learned otherwise! The neglect of our water system led the county and city government into throwing the political baseball over the wall with the creation of the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority. Rather than facing the political fallout of a massive tax increase to make up for the years of mismanagement we were just forced to accept massive (and ever increasing) rates.

    More recently we have also been subjected to a tax increase to cover needed road repairs which again should have been covered in existing taxes.

    Perhaps a new makeup of city and county government is in order? it seems that many of these decisions are being made through the eyes of Realtors.

  • Guesty1 says:

    As a former Fayettevillian I can tell you that The Fayetteville Generals was a complete an utter failure. In general America is losing interest in baseball. Face it, it’s a boring sport!

    Wilmington should concentrate on developing and capitalizing on it’s natural resources. Perhaps a marina complex, the riverfront, parks, green space, a riverfront ampi-theatre, a maritime complex,

  • Dumbfounded says:

    I hope we learned something from the convention center fiasco, Mayor Saffo has never seen a dollar he couldn’t spend, he’ll even spend our future dollars if we let him…. Vote “no” and kick ‘em out… kick ‘em all out!!!

  • Guest2020 says:

    If this bond referendum goes through, my widowed mother-in-law will have to pay $4567.50 more a year in property tax that comes out to $380.63 per month. That is nothing to sneeze at for a widow whose health is too poor to hold down a full-time job. My mother-in-law works part time and is barely able to survive on what she has. She absolutely cannot afford to pay more than what is absolutely necessary. A taxpayer funded stadium is not necessary.

  • Katherine says:

    #1 The agreement that the city signed states the city can only use the stadium for “up to 10 days per calendar year”, so that kills your idea that it will “host community events year round”.

    #2 The highly-touted Dayton stadium, run by Mandalay, has had ZERO concerts thus far this year, so that doesn’t exactly guarantee we’ll be having them here. And the only concerts we could have would have to be booked by Mandalay because of #1, above.

    #3 High schools won’t be using the facility, as they would have to pay for the privilege. UNC-W already has an excellent facility and, again, they would be charged a fee to use the stadium. I have heard UNCW is in the early stages of building a new sports complex, so I don’t think they have any future plans of using the stadium either.

    #4 The jobs created will be few. Long term jobs will be minimum wage, seasonal. If you know anything at all about commercial construction, you know the construction jobs aren’t even worth mentioning. They will also be few, and brief.

    #5 The whole “build it and we’ll get rich” concept has been proven by countless economists to be false. It doesn’t work.

    What the stadium WILL do, and what other stadiums have proven to do in other cities, is take money away from existing businesses. Families won’t shell out the money to go to both the ball park AND Jungle Rapids. They’ll choose one or the other.
    Ask the guy who owns Jungle Rapids if he thinks the stadium will be good for his business. Ask the guy who runs the Cape Fear Riverboats. Heck, ask the folks over at the Battleship. I think I know what they’ll all tell you.

  • Truthseeker says:

    Bafoon and O’dumbo knock on wood then knock on your heads. You just do not get it but we do not want a damn stadium at our expense. The only knocking O’dumbo will be hitting the button to vote you two idiots out!

  • SurfCityTom says:

    believe me, I am all opposed to this at the property tax payers expense.

    But, if that increase, and that is how you refer to it, is accurate, than your Mother-in-law has a house valued in excess of $1 million.

    I don’t think the Pro contingent will feel much sympathy.

    Tell her to vote No

  • Carol Kramer says:

    Percentage of residents living in poverty in 2009: 23.7%

    Try to Loot Loot Loot for the home team in some other city. I know we put a target on our head by building a convention center, the smell of an easy-money town reached as far as Atlanta… or perhaps even farther. This is the worst possible deal for Wilmington and all those lovely events you mention will cost us even more, because we have to rent out “our” stadium from the the Atlanta Braves.

    I find it inconceivable that anyone in Wilmington would vote to have their taxes raised to buy something that won’t be theirs! It’s like renting a suit to bury your grandfather in!

  • frontpaige says:

    First, I want to thank WHQR & WWAY for stepping up to the plate on this controversial issue. We had 2 area leaders & 2 area businessmen give us their views. It was heated at times, but respectful, and certainly informative.

    I do not believe this is the role of government or the proper use of tax dollars. I also believe this stadium venture will cost MUCH more than presented, and the liabilities will plague us for decades. I also believe the stadium will hurt existing area businesses, as it takes away from those competing venues.

    Furthermore, and I may stand alone on this one, I do NOT see this as optimum use of the riverfront entrance of our city, and it’s estimated only 2% of the residents will ever set foot in the place.

    Let’s take a ‘taxpayer pass’ on this one.

  • Opportunity? says:

    To Councilman O’Shady, I say this…sometimes I don’t answer the door when I believe someone is about to rob me. The City Council and Mandalay appear to be looking to pickpocket me and the rest of our city’s citizens.

    Sometimes, I know the train is leaving the station, but it looks like a runaway train so I don’t get onboard.

    To Mayor Hairspray, your 4 bucks a week, combined with a rising city stormwater rate, CFPUA rate increase, a homeowners insurance increase, and payroll increase based on an expiring extension to the federal social security withholding…well, hey, that all adds up to some real money. I probably can’t do anything about any of it, except for your silly stadium folly. Which I did!

    Vote no.

  • Katherine says:

    Mr Harry and Mr Rafferty used facts and research as the basis for their claims, while Saffo and O’Grady used (laughable) Charlotte and Durham as the basis for their arguments. They also citedthe NSS study, which was also funny, since almost all the parameters NSS based their study on have changed since they did it.
    At least O’Grady gave us an opportunity to see what a real New York lawyer looks like up close, and it ain’t pretty. No wonder the other council members don’t like him.

  • SurfCityTom says:

    and I really saw nothing put forth to dissuade me the ballpark, built with public funds, is a good thing.

    Now I was surprised at the Mayor’s reference to Fayetteville. They don’t have a baseball team other than a Coastal Plains League team.

    They do have a minor league hockey team, The Fire Antz, which play in the convention center.

    As to Durham, a couple of points.

    First, Durham already had a track record showing support for Minor League baseball. The Durham Bulls, Class A, had been there for years and had a steady fan base.

    Wilmington has had at least 2 minor league baseball teams, in the past 10 to 12 years, which departed due to lack of support. Does Wilmington support the Sharks to the same degree Fayetteville shows its Coastal Plains League team?

    Second, the city contributed $400 Million toward a $1.1 Billion downtown redevelopment project. That ballpark did not cost $400 Million. Had the redevlopment project not been undertaken, it is unlikely the new ball park would have been constructed.

    Look north to Richmond. The Diamond, which replaced Parker Field, home at that time of the Richmond Braves (AAA franchise for Atlanta) was constructed with public funds. And how long did the Braves remain before being moved to greener pastures?

    Vote NO. And then once the exclusive agreement with Atlanta is disolved, watch the Ripken Group build across the river with no public funding.

  • DJohnston says:

    O’Grady didn’t say the 2.5 figure would gradually decrease, he said the debt would decrease. They have said before that the only way the 2.5 cent rate gets reduced or removed is if some future city council votes to do it, and we know that will never happen. O’Grady was being intentionally oblique to mask this fact last night, because it is a very valid point that he wants people to ignore.
    The truth is, this is a bad deal for Wilmington. Contrary to what Mr O’Grady and Saffo want us to believe, there are many other cities out there that got much better deals. Hardly any of the other minor league stadiums use property tax to fund them, but the politicians don’t want us to know that. Then Saffo tries to compare Wilmington to Charlotte, which is like comparing t-ball to the Yankees. Him using the Charlotte stadium as an example just shows what lengths he’ll go to to try to fool people into thinking this is a good thing. It is not.
    If you care about doing the right thing and you are undecided, do what Mr Harry said, read up on this stuff. If you can stand it, read the agreement we signed. If you do that, you will know the right vote is a NO vote.

  • Vog46 says:

    Thank you! This old boy stands corrected.
    My streaming audio was terrible last night.


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