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Ballpark debate sparks fireworks from both sides

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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.

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.

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Knocking at the door?

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.

GOOD DEBATE/BUT LETS TAKE A PASS

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.