WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY'S "THE RANT" FROM NEWS DIRECTOR SCOTT PICKEY) -- First, let me be absolutely clear, the WWAY NewsChannel 3 Newsroom is neither pro nor anti baseball or ballpark. It's our ultimate goal to just cover the story as it progresses and keep Cape Fear residents, as well as the taxpayers of Wilmington, informed.
However, it's also our job to ask tough questions of our leaders and last night's city council meeting left me with a list of them.
The five attending council members discussed hiring Ripken Design to help them conduct a feasibility study to see if building a baseball stadium in Wilmington makes any sense. The Assistant City Manager told council no one on the city staff was qualified to do the study in-house, and felt Ripken was the best choice of the six viable companies that applied for the job.
After the presentation, Councilman Charlie Rivenbark nipped at the staff, insinuating they had taken too long to make this proposal. He then rhetorically mused that it was a waste of time hiring a firm in the first place. He said the city already had enough information, it should just hire someone to sift through it and make a recommendation. Charlie, where did that "information" come from if the city has done no due diligence to date? Mandalay Entertainment perhaps? Isn't that the company that wants to BUILD the stadium here? Do you really think their research would be an unbiased resource for you to make an informed decision? I also thought you all promised that nothing would be done without thorough research that would be presented to the public? Did Mandalay's self-imposed deadline for an agreement to get done trump that promise?
Then Councilman Kevin O'Grady spoke up, saying Mandalay didn't like Ripken because some proprietary information might have to be shared. You see, both Mandalay and Ripken run minor league baseball teams. He said he'd talked to Mandalay that very morning, and they were insistent that they didn't want to work with Ripken. So he suggested going with the second group on the city staff's list so they wouldn't rock the boat with Mandalay so soon in the relationship. Kevin, who's selling who here? Which are you more concerned about, your relationship with a company that's trying to get you to buy in to building and buying a new ballpark (whether short-term or long-term, you can bet that even with "private financiers," the taxpayers of Wilmington will end up owning that stadium eventually) - or making an informed and educated decision that's in the best interest of the people of Wilmington? And didn't city staff say Ripken was THE BEST firm that applied to do the job?
Councilwoman Margaret Haynes then had a suggestion that sounded pretty good for about 30 seconds. She thinks Mandalay and The Atlanta Braves should pay for the due diligence study. They've got the money and brain power all lined up already, why shouldn't they just do this too? Margaret, have you ever been to a department store, tried something on, and then asked the clerk if she thought it looked good on you? Have you ever bought a used car and asked the salesman if it runs good? OF COURSE IT DOES!!! So what do you think the answer's going to be if Mandalay does your feasibility study to answer the question, "Is baseball in Wilmington a good idea?" OF COURSE IT IS!
Finally, a tough question for all seven members of our beloved council. Is the prospect of a single A ball team associated with the glamorous Atlanta Braves playing in a glitzy brand new stadium so sexy and cool that it could potentially cloud your judgment? Or do you feel that, despite being courted, wined and dined by big leaguers, you can still make a rational, informed and educated decision that's in the best interest of this city? I'm sure the taxpayers would like to know the answer.