Ballpark push cost taxpayers $291,000

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Submitted: Sat, 11/10/2012 - 4:53am
Updated: Sun, 11/11/2012 - 2:32am

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — After months of planning and debate, Wilmington’s plan to build a ballpark struck out on Election Day. Voters may have avoided a tax increase, but they’ll still foot the bill for the city’s pursuit of a stadium.

“Is baseball good for wilmington? I think baseball can be successful in wilmington. I can’t say that it’s the right investment for Wilmington,” Brian Parker of National Sports Service, the city’s hired consultant, told City Council back in June.

City leaders, of course, swung for the fences with a $37 million ballpark bond referendum, which failed when put in front of voters. But the taxpayer dollars had already been spent on the project.

“They put the cart before the horse,” said Scott Harry, a spokesman for the opposition group Vote No Stadium Tax. “They started spending money, our money, before they ever got our approval.”

City spokesman Dylan Lee says the city spent $291,000 to finance the ballpark effort. Of that amount, $161,000 went to National Sports Services for a feasibility study. The city spent another $124,000 on attorneys fees to negotiate the deal with the Atlanta Braves and Mandalay Baseball. Another $6,000 went toward miscellaneous expenses, including an appraisal and getting the bond written. The total, though, does not account for the amount of time city staff spent on the effort.

Harry says this was a blatant waste of taxpayer dollars.

“I think it’s gotten very easy for them to spend other people’s money,” Harry said. “There are plenty of problems in the city, and the mayor himself has said they’re getting back to the core priorities. They should never have left that.”

The city says any money left over in the budget for the ballpark push will go back into the city’s general fund.


  • Vog46 says:

    I believe you to be a pro stadium troll looking to start a fight.
    It is NOT up to the citizenry to generate economic development ideas. Some of us with an entrepreneurial spirit, and business sense will do this privately.
    In spite of how I feel about Chuck Schoninger it is guys like him that buy properties and get investors together to fund things like hotels, marina’s and stores to build on properties he’s got.
    It is NOT the function of government to actually do this but to ENCOURAGE this type of activity.
    That said – why not develop shops with residents living above them like Sawmill proposed IF the stadium had passed? Repopulating down town should be a priority for the city and river front condo’s would provide a great deal of property taxes to “line our pockets” with. If you put people and shops together with walking traffic you have? Yeah increased sales tax revenues.

    The stadium WAS a basis for complaining because it was taking OUR money, a LOT of it, for use to build a building by which a private enterprise would use for profit. The economic benefit was questionable but the city got NO stadium revenues.
    In other words it was a $54M cost with no guarantee of success and no negotiated stadium revenues. We were to so called benefit from some are wide economic impact that was determined using fuzzy math. Mandalay was guaranteed a stream of revenues – we were not.
    Most people, when faced with investment decisions using their own money, become very conservative. This explains the popularity of US government savings bonds in years past.
    When other peoples money is used it’s easy to take more risk because you don’t hurt personally from the failure of that investment.

    This was a very bad deal for the city.
    But for the developers? They will continue seeking out uses for their property, but I suspect that for a down town such as ours, that a mixed use retail residential building (al la Mayfaire) is the most desirable use. Great river views for residents along with shops and restaurants nearby to eat at.


  • Guest1948 says:

    I can certainly think of better ways to have spent close to $300,000 in taxpayer dollars. It’s obvious that our so called leaders have little regard for our hard earned money. If it was up to me, I’d have them forfeit their pay for the remainder of their terms.

  • guesty says:

    Let Kevin O’Greedy and slick willie Saffo pay that bill.

  • Vog46 says:

    I thought I had seen that Council had appropriated over $300,000 for this at one point but I could only find where they appropriated $123,000 at the Feb 21 meeting.
    Of course any unused funds go back into the general fund anyway.
    Someone had commented that this wasted a lot of city staff time. Unfortunately, cities do operate this way. They receive a proposal and pursue it using -staff man hours. This is what staff does.

    I agree with Rick that perhaps staff could have explored this instead of having NSS do it but my guess is they would have come up with less information than NSS did. NSS hung themselves on the information they presented…

    Does anyone have an idea of how much money was invested into this idea?


  • robo says:

    All the more reason for Wilmington to replace their Mayor at the first opportunity.

  • ChefnSurf says:

    Only two possible reasons for this: Incompetence or malfeasance. It’s either one or the other.

    If voters do not put the final nail into this City Council’s coffin and remove all, I repeat all, of its members; these people will be putting the final nail into Wilmington’s.

    Many of them will now be scrambling to save face. Many of them will now be attempting to put a logical spin on an illogical and obscene perversion of how a local government should be spending taxpayer’s money. It’s too late. The money is gone. There is not one valid explanation on planet Earth that would justify this council blowing over 1/3 of a million taxpayers dollars (adding in city labor, etc) that, given the strong negative feelings already in place, should never have been spent without a positive public consensus. All of that money completely wasted!

    Past behavior is always the best indicator of future behavior. Keep any of them around and, sooner or later, they’ll do it again. They just can’t help themselves. They were born with the dreaded “Tax & Spend” gene embedded into their DNA. No sense in getting mad at them. Just get rid of them. End of story.

    Removing them is a bigger no-brainer than voting down the stadium.

    Also: “The city says “any” money left over in the budget for the ballpark push will go back into the city’s general fund.” The exact dollar amount of those monies still unspent should be publicly disclosed ASAP before they either find a way to hide what they’ve actually spent or find a way to blow that remaining amount as well.

  • pete says:

    I see how you say cities do this but this is a new world and it’s time for new less costly ways to be used. You want a ballpark this much money could have bought the land. Then you hire a man with a tractor to level the area. Then you put some cheap seats like are used at football games up. Hire someone to install a fence. Then another to sew grass seed. And Voila for less than 500000 you have a working ballpark. It may not be world class but it gets the job done and can be upgraded along and along.

  • Rick Wilson says:

    Anytime a project such as this comes along, I believe it should be first explored using people already on the payroll. It should be explored with the attitude that it is bad for the tax payers. If it passes this first “test” then do an unbiased poll of at least 1000 people using only what can be proved. There should be no candy coating or wild conjecture, only proven facts. If the poll shows the tax payers are interested then proceed with an unbiased study done by professionals that do not make their living off of the proposed project.

    This whole process showed how much this area lacks journalists that investigate the whole story and report the facts. All of the information uncovered by the people on the blogs should have been reported on the news, and all of the misrepresentations should have been put under a spotlight. I guess when your local paper takes orders from outside sources, you should not expect anything else…….

    The Mayor and Councilman O’Grady should be ashamed they tried to get the tax payers to fall for this scheme…….For them to be proud of the “so called deal,” you would have thought they represented Mandalay instead of the tax payers since Mandalay received all of the benefit….

    It is time for a complete and total audit of how the city government wastes tax payer dollars. The first 2 glaring examples are the Chamber of Commerce and John Hinnant’s salary. If the city would concentrate on what they are supposed to and cut out the waste, I do not believe they would need their own personal lobbying firm either…….

  • Gvernment 101 says:

    Dear Citizens of Wilmington,

    I would like to submit a question for thought. I normally do not comment on these post but rather use it to observe our citizenry at work. This mostly leads to copious amounts of complaining and stating the obvious. The question is, what do we do? Can anyone complain with a solution? It is always OUR TAXPAYERS dollars! As if you had a choice in the matter anyway! The City Council has appointed leaders. They have to use real information to materialize into intelligence. This requires someone to gather the information and digest it. The intelligence is then used to promote a solution or to see if there is any solution. Please if there is anyone out there that would do it for free contact the City Council.
    It is obvious we need to do something to generate income. There are City wide projects that need implementating or to be completly revamped. The old saying, “You can’t make money without spending money” comes to mind. I’m not saying the Baseball Satdium is the solution but, what is? As long as we, the citizen, take the luxourious position to criticize instead of providing solutions, we all look like OXYMORONS. If the spirit of entitlement gives you the right to complain use it also to provide solutions. If they raise taxes we complain. If they use ways to generate income without having to raise taxes we complain. If they raise taxes to support a project temporarily, we complain. WE can lead to our own demise!So what do we do? If you do not keep up with your local govenrment process you are in a position to make misinformed comments. Which again, this is your right! Say what you want but solutions and ideas do not come from complaining. There are citizens in this City that can help. We all live here. Come forward and lets find solutions for our families void of underlying motivations that would just line your POCKETS!

    PS. To the citizens that love to complain, excuse my grammar and misspelled wurds in advance!

  • Angie Crumpler says:

    Wilmington is a lovely, historic city. It had an important role in the founding of our country as well as the Civil War. Unlike nondescript, less interesting cities, we do not need to build convention halls and ball parks to attract tourists and visitors. The natural beauty of the area makes it a destination wedding city. If we junk up the beauty of our area with too many slick, modern wanna be like everybody else buildings, we will ruin our uniqueness. We need to focus on repairing our infrastructure and maintaining our historic and natural beauty. Our city council seems to be buying what the consultants are selling to every city or they are hearing at all those meetings and visits to other cities. Wilmington is not like other cities and we shouldn’t try to clone ourselves into one.

  • Vog46 says:

    You are, obviously a troll.
    That said please consider this.
    It is not the function of government to invest in itself but to encourage investment. Sure you could say that infrastructure improvements are investing in one’s self but you know, as do I, that the stadium is NOT infrastructure related.
    It is up to private developers to do this sort of thing.
    For instance, Chuck Schoninger buys that land parcel and proposes a hotel on the land. That’s the type of development that SHOULD happen. The city could/should get involved in this to “incentivize” this process by perhaps offering a small break on property taxes – if Mr Schoninger is on the fence about it. Remember, the city COULD do this if the city deemed it appropriate.
    As for the stadium – we were asked to spend $54M for a project that would provide 25 to 30 full time jobs – or approximately $422,000 per job created. For Verizon the city offered $875,000 in tax breaks or about $400 per job created (1200 jobs).
    The city gets NO REVENUES from the stadium but collects taxes from Veizon (about $145,000 per year if memory serves me correctly). Not to mention that many Verizon employees have bought houses in the area that generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional revenues.

    So the argument here is how do we BEST generate revenues for the city? There are guarantees from investments like Verizon – property taxes at a minimum. There are no guarantees from a stadium – just an estimate, using fuzzy math, that maybe, just maybe, the city could get some tax revenues from spending outside the stadium.
    Sorry but I’d take a guarantee over an estimate any day especially when Verizon created thousands of jobs.

    Let private developers develop – let the city encourage that development


  • Vog46 says:

    “The exact dollar amount of those monies still unspent should be publicly disclosed ASAP before they either find a way to hide what they’ve actually spent or find a way to blow that remaining amount as well.”

    Actually they have been disclosed as far as I know. I reference the appropriate city council minutes for both figures:
    From Feb 21 – appropriation of $123,500
    From Jun 19 – appropriation of $355,000

    Total known appropriations = $478,500
    Minus known costs so far $291,000

    Should return $187,500 to the general fund, if my math is correct


  • ChefnSurf says:


    Now all they need then is an application of a little “Remove-All” house cleaning solution for City Council and a few others and Wilmington will be back on the road to viability. Of course, Wilmington’s number one “cheerleader”, Connie Majure-Rhett will probably disagree with that.


  • Vog46 says:

    That worked years ago when cities built public ball parks but this is different.’
    I hate to say it but the Minor Leagues have minimum standard requirements for new stadiums.
    Here’s “the rub”.
    Many cities own their own franchises and the team operations are overseen by a board.
    In that case MiLB cannot and will not hold those cities hostage because they cannot tell a city what to do if in fact the city is also the owner of the franchise.
    When you introduce a 3rd party owner/operator things change.
    Thats why I suggested early on that the city pursue BUYING the franchise from the Lynchburg group. It would have insured permanency here.
    But he PRO side believes the city was not capable of operating the team. That along with the city’s in tough shape, down town is a big mess, there’s no development taking place…..the usual “I’m against Wilmington thought process. They tried to disparage the city as a way to make their argument look more substantial.
    That failed too……


  • Homie says:

    Well, well Mr Saffo cost the taxpayers $291,000, to push his own agenda, its def time to get him and O’grady out! Think of how many jobs this money could have created…..?

  • Guest111 says:

    I think of Saffo like I do Berger. There MUST be a way to get both of them out of office without having to wait for an election. I definately think Saffo and co stole the money from the taxpayers and used it without any permission and with the voters yelling NO as loud as they could. If I were Saffo I’d hide my face and get out of the public eye. I think there should be an audit of the city’s financial situation.

  • Guest CommonTater says:

    I guess that’s what it is. For some reason they continue to vote these jerks in over and over and over and over……

  • Carol Kramer says:

    $291,000 is obscene.

    In other news…can not wait to we see how they handle a fountain that’s in the middle of Market Street:

    “A complete retrofitting of the traffic signals and lighting at the intersection could cost $400,000.”

  • Guest Reply says:

    “In other news…can not wait to we see how they handle a fountain that’s in the middle of Market Street” (Unquote)

    That’s an easy one. Council will build a baseball stadium around it!

  • Guest111 says:

    ‘the mayor himself has said they’re getting back to the core priorities.’ Saffo, don’t think for one minute that we, the voters, don’t see your attempt to start CYA for your re-election campaign. Let me tell you what you and other council members need to do! You need to start having fund raisers to put OUR monies back in the general fund. Monies that you foolishly spent on a project that was not approved. You need to give it back and right now! That was not your money to throw away and falls just short of stealing as far as I’m concerned.

  • Guest1948 says:

    CYA is absolutely correct Guest111. Saffo is a master “Spin Doctor” with all the financial backing of the major players in town that stand to benefit the most from his grandious dreams and schemes at the cost of the taxpayers with the least to gain. It’s time he and his political machine is voted out of office.

  • taxpayer says:

    there are a lot of us who will remember this debacle if/when Saffo, O’Grady, and the other City Council members who supported this venture run for re-election.

    It’s time to clean house!

  • Truthseeker says:

    Hey Safffat and O’Grench you pay for the cost imposed on me and all city taxpayers. You were told many times we did not want a baseball stadium at tax payer expense yet you two idiots pushed it anyway. It is only right you refund the cost back to us. You went against our will on your on you greedy asses. You just as well not run for reelection as you two morons will feel the same wrath of 75% of the voters who rejected your pursuing the stadium. Your political shenanigans is over and your business will suffer also. You cheated us one time too many and 300,000 thousand could fill some potholes you two buffoons!

  • Guest666 says:

    The city should reimburse the taxpayers ever cent that they stole from them.

  • Guest Reply says:

    “The city should reimburse the taxpayers every cent that they stole from them” (Unquote)

    If they did…then we could all drive BMW’s!

  • Brian says:

    I say that we as residents of Wilmington petition for a reduction of salary and travel budget for the Mayor and city council such that the expenditure will be repaid to the taxpayers.

  • jusmyopnyun says:

    How could this blatant disregard for the taxpayer’s opinion/monies regarding the purchase of a ballpark happen,as such?You would beleive that with the high expenses involved in their persuit that it might occur to someone to investigate the public’s appetite for the project BEFORE costly investigation of their plan.The unnecessary waste of this amount of money literally makes me sick,along with the feeling that we are in for more of the same.

  • Joshua Fulton says:

    None of this accounts for all the staff time spent on this issue. That still has significant costs. We’re paying all their salaries.

  • Guest1948 says:

    You hit the nail on the head!!! In spite of what Saffo says, I still believe he and his cronies will continue to figure out some way to get a ballpark here in Wilmington. How much could $300,000 have gone toward correcting the traffic issues with Kenan Fountain? Plenty, but Saffo and his buddies are more concerned with lining their pockets than preserving the history of our city.

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