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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — After several months of campaigning both for and against building a ballpark in the Port City, results are in, and voters overwhelmingly said no. Seventy percent of Wilmington voters decided against the city building a $37 million ballpark.

“I hope that our leaders now and in the future remember this, that we spoke very loudly,” said Scott Harry, spokesman for the “Vote No Stadium Tax” campaign. “The people spoke. It wasn’t me. It was the people, and they said keep your hands out of our pockets.”

City Councilman Kevin O’Grady, a huge proponent for the ballpark deal, says the future of baseball in Wilmington has ended with Tuesday night’s results.

“I still think it was a great opportunity for the city, but it’s up to the voters, and if they’ve rejected it, we’re not going to do it,” O’Grady said.

However, Harry does not believe this is over for the city.

“I think that if it’s not Mandalay, it will be somebody else,” he said. “If it’s not next week, it will be next year.:

Terry Spencer, spokesman for the “Vote Yes” campaign agrees with Harry.

“Our work is not done,” Spencer said. “We did see from the results. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We have a lot of minds to convince, but that’s just a challenge for us. We’ll continue to go forward.”

In a statement, Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said:

“Baseball has been discussed in our community for a number of years and this was the first viable proposal we had seen, involving not only Major League Baseball, but also a nationally known management entertainment company. Clearly this opportunity came knocking at our door at a tough time, when citizens are worried about government spending, even when the benefits are large. That’s why it was important for citizens to have their say and that’s why we put this referendum on the ballot.

“It is clear from the outcome of this election that our citizens do not want to pursue baseball and we have heard them. We will continue to focus on providing core services to our citizens, just as we always have. We will also continue to look for economic develop opportunities that will benefit our city in the future.

“This has been a healthy debate for our community with strong feelings on both sides. We ask everyone – supporters and opponents – to stay involved in city government and continue to promote positive growth and change for our community. Most of all, we thank everyone who took part in this debate for stepping up to do what they think is right for our city.”

In another statement, Mandalay Baseball Properties and the Atlanta Braves thanked Wilmington.

“The Atlanta Braves and Mandalay Baseball are disappointed that the ballpark referendum has been defeated,” the statement said. “We would like to thank Mayor Saffo, City Council, the city administration, the numerous civic and business leaders and all the volunteers who worked tirelessly on this terrific opportunity for the City of Wilmington.”

Comment on this Story

  • Vog46

    This is thought provoking:

    Mandalay backs off plan after failed ballpark vote
    November 7, 2012By J. Elias O’Neal

    The pinnacle of growth some business and civic leaders were hoping would come to fruition along the Cape Fear River in downtown Wilmington appears stalled after a failed voter referendum.

    According to Tuesday’s unofficial returns, about 70 percent of the more than 50,000 Wilmington residents who weighed in on a bond referendum about a proposed baseball stadium voted against authorizing the city to spend $37 million on the project.

    Earlier this year, Mandalay Baseball and Atlanta Braves officials announced plans to bring an Atlanta Braves minor league baseball franchise to the Port City – as long as the city footed the bill to construct the stadium.

    Richard W. Neumann, president of Mandalay Baseball Properties, said Wednesday given the referendum’s wide margin of defeat, it might be a long time before any minor league baseball organization considers coming to Wilmington.

    “Given the outcome of the election, it’s clear to us minor league baseball in Wilmington is off the table and will be for quite some time,” Neumann said. “In the next few years, I can’t imagine anyone taking a hard look at Wilmington for minor league baseball.”

    Funded with a 2.5-cent property hike, the multipurpose stadium pitched to voters boasted more than 6,000 seats, executive club suites, river views and a 1.5-acre city park. City officials had focused on the roughly 8.06-acre site of the former Sawmill Marina development for the stadium’s proposed site.

    After interest from multiple developers, including a partnership between Augusta, Ga.-based businessman Clay Boardman and Wilmington-based developer Raiford Trask III who proposed footing the bill of the stadium’s construction as along as the city was willing to assume potential overages, city officials ultimately decided to take on the risk as project developer and construct the stadium.

    Proponents of the stadium, including the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce and with the help of Raleigh-based public relations powerhouse Capstrat, touted the potential economic development benefits the stadium could bring to the city and region – citing success stories in Durham and Dayton, Ohio.

    “Obviously, we’re very disappointed in the referendum results, but the effort and dedication of volunteers was incredible,” Terry Spencer, spokesman for Wilmington Family Entertainment and Baseball Coalition, said Wednesday. “We have no regrets. We knew that this was going to be an uphill struggle, but we made some headway and moved the ball on this issue, and that’s very important.”

    Scott Harry, president of the Vote No Stadium Tax Referendum Committee, said it was time for Wilmington officials to focus on fundamental services the city provides residents.

    “I’m proud of the people for making their voice heard. Clearly, the [city] council and [county] commissioners have heard it loud and clear,” Harry said. “It’s time to get back to taking care of core services the government is responsible for and putting an end to this nonsense.”

    An upscale residential project slated for the area also died alongside the referendum’s defeat.

    Officials with Charlotte-based South Street Partners, a private real estate investment company, have previously said they would not pursue a multi-story, luxury mixed-use development near the intersection of Cowan and Front streets if the referendum did not pass.

    Officials with the firm last week announced plans to build a $20 million-$26 million development on 5.42 acres of the Upper Dean tract for the residential development that could include ground-level retail, parking above the ground-level retail and 200-250 residential units.

    Patrick Melton, managing partner of South Street Partners, did not return phone calls for comments by press time Wednesday afternoon.

    In the run up to Election Day, Mandalay Baseball and Atlanta Braves officials donated $12,500 each to the Wilmington Family Entertainment and Baseball Coalition.

    Neumann said the pro-stadium committee was not to blame for the referendum’s defeat but rather the city residents’ ideological shift about the role of government.

    “I thought the grassroots movement with the [pro-stadium] campaign was executed well,” he said. “The obstacle was that a vast majority of people are ideologically opposed to public/private partnerships. This was a great opportunity for the city and one that the city will come to regret not taking advantage of.”

    He said Mandalay Baseball and the Atlanta Braves were no longer pursuing the project.

    “We really don’t have any plan-B locally or elsewhere,” Neumann said. “This was the opportunity we wanted to pursue and not being successful means it’s really over. Wilmington spoke and they don’t want to have this.”

    “This was a great opportunity for the city and one that the city will come to regret not taking advantage of.”

    You, Mr Neumann, are a condescending piece of work.
    This comment, along with Majure-Rhett saying Wilmington isn’t “Viable” without a stadium shows just how desperately they were pushing this.
    We certainly are viable and if you don’t think so then please move out of here.
    This is the greatest distortion of Wilmington’s economic health that I’ve seen.
    Shame on you all…..


  • Guest211


  • Guest2020

    On behalf of my mother-in-law, whose taxes would have been raised significantly, I would like to thank the voters of Wilmington for defeating this bond referendum. Thanks go out to everyone who put so much time and effort into preventing this albatross from being placed around the necks of the Wilmington citizens. My faith in the people of Wilmington has been restored and I pray that you keep up the good work in the coming years when it is time to choose a new mayor and city council.

  • Guest2020

    I love it. I hope that the citizens of Wilmington keep up the good work.

  • Guest2022

    Well how can you find out now? I think that would have been a great idea and I am sure they would have done a special for city residents.

  • Vog46

    The difference between us and El Paso is striking.
    Our room tax is 6% according to NSS
    El Paso’s will rise from 15.5 percent to 17.5 percent

    I don’t have any figures but I do wonder how our 6% rate stacks up against average room occupancy taxes nationwide.

    As I have pointed out they DID survey down town businesses and decided that raising the ROT wasn’t a good idea.
    Because the hoteliers or the visitor’s bureau didn’t want it?
    Of course, THAT is the real reason – and that is also the reason why the PRO side claimed to have all that business “support”…..they said “OK, we won’t tax you, will you support it then?”
    This is the exact same argument we have – build it but don’t tax us.
    A very small group of people basically attempted to dictate where the funding was to come from………

    Additionally El Paso has a Durham problem. Their down town is a mess and the stadium is a small part of a $600M rebuilding project. It will be interesting to watch.


  • Guest1107

    Wow! I really enjoyed every word of this. You are quite talented, and I appreciate your sharing with us. What a fitting end to a stupid idea! Thanks!!

  • fleebailey

    Baseball is the perfect cure.

  • Guest5150

    If this would have passed and the stadium built, would I have gotten 2 free passes a year for my tax money??? I didn’t think I would!

  • Carol Kramer

    Sorry Vog…That’s how you fund a Convention Center. Let’s keep an eye on how everything works out in El Paso.

  • Vog46

    Another failed prediction?
    Sorry for your loss………

    Why did it fail?
    Over reach by Mandalay?

    Failed marketing by PCB and the Terry Spencer crowd?
    Or is Wilmington just NOT a baseball city?
    Or did the taxpayers say this wasn’t a function of government?

    You failed to note the significance of 3 different Civitas polls. You chose instead to attack the organization and the people who funded the anti campaign. You, in that one instance, showed that you are bereft of critical thinking skills because you let ideology blind you to the fact that Civitas is indeed a polling organization, and know how to do it. You were so enraged by their results you felt your only option was to attack them.
    Open your eyes ! Celebrate our differences and learn by them.
    So – what caused this to fail Captain Predicto?


  • Vog46

    I nominate that for blog post of the year.

    That is an instant Wilmington classic


  • ChefnSurf

    [ How the “Pro’s” saw it … ]
    As you sit in the bleachers with ten dollar beers
    take a look skyward and see what appears.
    Why it’s Saffo and cronies in their private box;
    there’s Chucky and Terry,
    with Scotch on the Rocks!

    Now Mandalay’s paying for all that they’ve got
    and it’s all air-conditioned in case it gets hot.
    Champagne corks will rain on the bleachers below;
    hey, Mandalay’s buying …..
    no need to drink slow!

    So the Braves will make money as will Mandalay,
    just not the taxpayers at end of the day.
    So throw out the first pitch and let ‘em play ball.
    No need for a vote in November at all ……..
    ‘cause only taxpayers are taking the fall!

    [ However … ]
    November was coming and as taxpayers know
    opposition got larger and continued to grow.
    No matter the numbers the “Pro’s” tried to spin,
    and lies they kept telling, again and again,
    it was a big rip-off, and would never win.

    So when ballots were counted at end of the day,
    bye bye to Atlanta, same with Mandalay!
    They treated taxpayers with zero respect.
    No wonder that voters said they would reject
    the plan by big baseball (now hopefully wrecked).

    [ Pre-epilog … ]
    And as for insiders who went on a mission
    to scheme with big baseball (perhaps for commission);
    the smart will stay quiet, just like a mouse.
    They all know what’s coming ……….

  • Citizen of the Republic

    I don’t think so.
    I have to admit, the resounding “NO” vote was a little surprising.
    The utter and total defeat demands that the council live up to the people’s vote and discard any future plans they have about baseball.

    The only sure fired way to make them understand is to boot them out of office, and replace them with people that are more in touch with the community.

    Only then, will the voters have sent the complete message.
    Represent us, or your fired.

  • Besty_Guesty

    to call upon the City Council to show some modicum of integrity and resign. Yes, immediately resign.

    The Council wasted many thousands of dollars of taxpayer money and thousands of hours of city staff time (even more taxpayer money) on this unmitigated disaster. You ignored the taxpayers. Can you hear us now?

    In an orgy of hubris, Mayor Saffo, Kevin O’Grady and the rest of City Council acted in a reckless and irresponsible manner in my opinion and should sanction themselves before the voters have to do it in the next municipal election. Resign now.

  • Charlie DeArmond

    We don’t need an expensive ball park. A bit of cinder block, common lumber, chain link, and some modest lights will do just fine. Let vendors come in without fees. Charge next to nothing for admission. Gravel parking lot. Basically, make an “old school” small town pattern field on an appropriate scale. Get players who are actually local, and we’ll love them even if they get their butts kicked. Basically, give the people something they can afford and will actually enjoy. You know, we’ve got that big expensive new convention center and despite the fact that I live downtown and always look for something interesting to do around here I’ve never even seen an event for that venue that seemed remotely worthwhile. And we paid what? You know, the real kicker, I think, is that tourists would probably flock to a simple and nostalgic type of ball park — all we’d need is local enthusiasm — which high fees, high taxes, expensive vendors and distantly recruited players are never going to produce, no matter how many games they win or how many gold plated urinals you install in the place.

  • Vog46


    Proposition 3: Voters approve increase in hotel tax for Downtown El Paso stadium funding

    By Cindy Ramirez / El Paso Times
    Posted: 11/07/2012 01:19:20 AM MST
    The planned Downtown ballpark received a huge show of support from El Pasoans, who on Tuesday voted in favor of increasing the hotel tax to pay for its construction.
    “What we did (Tuesday) was change the dynamics of our community,” said Leonard “Tripper” Goodman, chairman of the El Paso Tomorrow political action committee advocating for the quality-of-life bond referendum. “Now we know we can — and will — make change happen.”
    El Pasoans voted notably in favor of Proposition 3, which called for the designation of the ballpark project as a sports venue and the use of hotel occupancy tax dollars to finance it. About 60 percent of voters cast ballots supporting the proposition.
    With the proposition approved, the $50 million Triple-A stadium will be financed primarily by customers of El Paso hotels. The remaining portion would be paid for by lease payments, baseball-ticket surcharges and parking revenues, among other revenue sources.
    Two other propositions, which called for $473 million in projects including parks and zoo improvements, a new children’s museum and a multipurpose arena, passed with ease.
    “Ten years from now, we won’t be able to recognize this city,” City Manager Joyce Wilson said at The Garden restaurant Downtown,
    where bond supporters gathered and cheered the election results. “We are redefining ourselves.”
    The decision on Proposition 3 follows months of heated debate over the process and cost of bringing the minor league Tucson Padres baseball team to the city and building a stadium to house it.
    Opponents argued that the city should not build the stadium without voter approval and have filed petitions, complaints and lawsuits trying to prevent the demolition of City Hall to make way for the

    “As far as I’m concerned, we have already won because our people started this grass-roots organization,” said El Paso lawyer Stephanie Townsend Allala, who helped lead the groups opposed to the bond propositions.
    “The quest for good government doesn’t end with the vote,” Allala added. She said she believed the city handled the baseball deal inappropriately. She advocated that the ballpark be built only with voter approval and not at the City Hall site. “Each of us can do something to make our community better.”
    While revenues from property taxes cannot support a venue project unless it’s subsequently approved by voters, the city could have used other financing methods such as a lease-purchase plan or using existing general revenue funds such as sales taxes, franchise fees or international bridge tolls.
    City leaders had banked on the hotel tax to pay for about 72 percent of the construction costs.
    The hotel tax rate will increase from 15.5 percent to 17.5 percent — about $1.40 more a night for a room with a $70 daily rate — by spring 2013. That would generate about $36 million for the ballpark over 25 years, city finance officials said.
    On Tuesday, the City Council approved buying two Downtown buildings for $11.7 million, including the El Paso Times building. The council also voted to spend more than $13 million to remake another building as part of a plan to demolish City Hall to make way for the ballpark.
    The city entered into partnership with MountainStar Sports Group in June, when the City Council agreed to build the ballpark Downtown. In September, the council approved a contract with the group for the lease of the ballpark.
    MountainStar in October officially became the owner of the Triple-A Tucson Padres, the affiliate of the major league San Diego Padres.
    The Tucson Padres will play their 2013 season in Arizona and are expected to play in El Paso in 2014.
    “It’s a great day for El Paso,” said Josh Hunt, a partner in MountainStar Sports Group, on Tuesday. “We are progressing, moving forward, and not just with baseball, but as a city with all the propositions.”
    Cindy Ramirez may be reached at cramirez@elpasotimes.com; 546-6151. Follow her on Twitter@eptcindyramirez.
    Times reporter Aaron Bracamontes contributed to this report.

    Heh, heh, heh
    THAT’S how you FUND a baseball stadium.


  • Abby

    Thank god no baseball stadium. Wilmington is already a small town as it is then try and add a baseball stadium in the middle of it. Yes would bring jobs but this is just not the place for it. Downtown is already crowded as it is.

    We already have one baseball stadium and that is enough for one town and those games are not even sold out! I am so glad this was put on the voter ballot and was finally voted against!


  • Robert Green

    Now is the time to follow through with a complete dismantling of the city council , who continue to defy the wishes of the taxpayers and are not concerned about their economic welfare. Pro baseball franchises are ALWAYS shopping around for municipalities who are willing to put their citizens on the hook to subsidize their playgrounds. So Bill Saffo to suggest that pro baseball in Wilmington is a once in a lifetime opportunity is a folly. Saffo has zero credibility in this community and is in office primarily for his own self-interest. A poor economy , defiance and the ” Downtown Dinosaur” ( convention center ) were the primary factors that led to a sound defeat. The city council , city staff and the Chamber of Commerce need to heed this warning if you have any desire of holding political office, being employed as a city employee ( i.e city manager and asst. city manager ) or being an honest broker in the promotion of the business community. Locally, we are one of the more economically depressed areas of the state , therefore YOUR priorities need to be seriously reassessed.

  • Guest CommonTater

    70 percent of Wilmington voters decided against the city building a $37 million ballpark.

    Why don’t you and your cronies actually try doing what the voters want for a change…..

  • Ryan


  • Guestnem

    The Wilmington cabal lost on this one- but won on some others. Still a win is a win and the people of wilmington and NHC won when this idea went down–Saffo , Sheridan, O’grady and Haynes stunk the place out on this one

  • Guest1978

    If you want a ballpark, you pay for it with your own money. Some of us need our hard earned money to stay afloat and support a family.

  • Commonsensenotcommontoday

    The New Hanover voters have rejected city-county consolidation not once, not twice, but three times, yet the zombie is not dead. People are trying to raise the issue again.

    Mark my words, this stadium issue will NEVER be dead until everyone who supported it is removed from the city council. And if county residents think that they were ever off the hook, they’re fooling themselves. Rest assured Mandalay (or someone) will quickly conclude that spreading the cost among three counties and Wilmington will sugar-coat the turd and improve it’s flavor.

    They will be back trying to soak the taxpayers and line their own pockets with that cash.

  • Vog46

    Forget what Terry Spencer et all said last night. Port City Baseball and its leadership are irrelavent. AS much as Terry tried to get his mug on TV the plain truth is they were used – used to put out signs, get bodies to meetings, and to otherwise act as cheer leaders.
    The Mayor, and O’Grady said it’s over as far as Council is concerned -meaning they will not pursue a taxpayer funded stadium.
    What is the MOST important thing to remember i what Mandalay was asking.
    To wit:
    “Will all the property owners, young and old, RICH AND POOR be willing to pay more taxes for a stadium”???
    They of course got their hats handed to them.
    Which told them what?
    That the RICH (read local investors) by a 2 to 1 margin did NOT want to pay, even a little, for a stadium.
    Mandalay knew, 3 months that this would be a tough sell. 2 Months ago they knew they’d lose – Civitas III and PPP polling told them it would be a rout. They have a plan “B” and that is to come back to the table with private monies.
    The vote yesterday told them that THIS might also be a problem – because if the rich weren’t willing to give up a lunch, how could they expect them to invest 10’s of thousands of dollars in private investment monies????
    MiLB is first and foremost a business. A business that has to be profitable. Re-read NSS and tell me this – if they paid for it all would Mandalay have made money? The answer is “no”.
    This is where our history comes into play. Could they make money using Lynchburg’s attendance? No. Could they do it with the Waves attendance? No.
    We would have to achieve “Dayton level” attendance in order for them to make profits. Mandalay knew the couldn’t do it so they had to ask us to insure their P&L remained positive.
    But the vote also said something else. It told them that even the wealthy people here may NOT invest in a stadium. By a 2 to 1 margin it told them that.
    Now the dynamic has changed. Now Mandalay has to convince CORPORATE investors and private investors that this could work. They have been working on a plan “B” for months in the hopes they can revive this stadium deal with private investors. THey haven’t had much luck so far.
    The question for me is did the over whelming vote yesterday scare off the corporate sponsors Ripken has lined up? If they did? Personally it’s no big deal to me as I would have only attended a game or two anyway.
    The pull out of private investors 6 months ago KILLED this deal.

  • SurfCityTom

    and in the Star News, the Mayor is quoted indicating the issue is closed for the City. No bond referendum approval means no city funded ballpark, right?

    Yet, Mr. Spencer states “…we’ve got a lott of work to do, we have a lot of minds to convince…”

    Did I miss something? If the Mayor says it is over; if O’Grady says it is over, how could there be a lot of work to do and minds to convince?

    Now, is the city going to end its agreement with Mandalanta so the Ripken Group can step in and begin construction across the river?

  • Carol Kramer

    Need to collect the Vote NO Signs…We’ll need them again.
    How hard would it be to print a label and stick it on the Vote NO Signs?

    Vote NO

    Vote NO

    Vote NO

  • Katherine

    We all need to remember who the ring leaders and yes men were in this debacle. When they come up for re-election, or run for other public offices, remember who they are and what they tried to do.

    Bill Saffo – Ring Leader
    Kevin O’Grady – Ring Leader
    Margaret Haynes – Yes (wo)Man

    These were the three who were the loudest, biggest pompom wavers of the bunch. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure none of them is even elected in the Wilmington area again.

  • taxpayer64

    They still dont get it……WHAT PART OF NO does the City council not get? Talk about out of touch…perhaps they are sad that they will not have free seats, or that they wont be paid……Maybe next time they will let the private sector jump in and foot the expenses since its such a ” great business opportunity”. Maybe the next vote by the citizens should be for a NEW group of council members from the Mayor down……someone intelligent enough to understand the word NO!

  • Vog46

    To Terry, Chuck any others…….

    You were so full of a false sense of bravado but failed to take seriously the scientific polls.
    That said……

    A good marketing person is compelled to look back at both successful and failed campaigns to see what worked, and what didn’t. I am asking you all, in a very public way to look back and tell us why this marketing effort failed.

    Do a little soul searching………


  • Commonsensenotcommontoday

    Do the city council members who sold their souls for the privilege of carrying Mandalay’s water have to give back the thick, unmarked envelopes or can they keep the money?

  • Guest111

    You can have all the ballparks you want. . just don’t think you are going to use tax payer’s money to build it.

  • Guest Reply

    Better uses for $37 million dollars for Wilmington:
    1. Work with NCDOT and REPAIR OUR ROADS!
    2. Synchronize our traffic light system.
    3. Put more Police Patrol on our roads.
    4. By all means…repair our out dated sewer system.
    5. Don’t go away mad…just go away!
    A failing infrastructure, so Council will not…Leave our money alone. Council has taxed us to death because they have taken advantage of the tax payers in this city for years. They bleed the people until they cannot pay…and Wall Street happens on a local level. Standard practice in today’s world…don’t work out plans to work a government with what you have…just raise taxes. The minds to do so are not there.
    How many years of college did that require to think that process up?…

  • jj

    I will say this again. I have no problem with baseball in Wilmington as long as the taxpayers do not have to fund it. If this was something that could make money they would not be asking for taxpayers money, they would want all the profit.

    With all that the City needs I hate we have wasted so much money on this already.

  • ma_lashley

    Not saying you didn’t, but go back and read the MOU that O’Grady the lawyer says was so carefully crafted to protect the citizens. Mandalay did get all the income (profits) and the tax-payers got all the bills. We even had to pay a management fee to use our very own stadium. It seems that O’Grady really only managed to carve out a free sky suite for the city council to use.

  • SurfCityTom

    printed media reports no Plan B. That being true, then the city and Mandalanta should do the right thing; terminate the exclusive agreement; and thus allow the Ripken Group to step in and negotiate a privately funded facility.


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