ONLY ON 3: Saffo backtracks on campaign promise about tax-funded ballpark; other teams wait for decision


WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Several things must fall into place before a baseball stadium becomes a reality in Wilmington. Some important issues: How are we, meaning the taxpayers, going to fund it? Where would it go? And which team would play here?

Last fall Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo appeared on The Big Talker FM with Chad Adams to talk baseball. Adams asked the mayor if he supported a taxpayer-funded baseball stadium in Wilmington.

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“No,” Saffo said. “No. And that’s one of the issues when people come to us and tell us we want to bring a ballteam to your community how are you gonna pay for it?”

But it looks like the city may consider shelling out the tax dollars after all despite what the mayor said while campaigning for reelection.

“I did make those comments,” Saffo said today. “I’d rather see some sort of sales tax pay for it, because everybody who comes in, Brunswick and Pender County, could help pay for this.”

Or it could mean an increase in Wilmington property taxes.

Mayor saffo says he’s actually received a lot of support since announcing the Atlanta Braves and Mandalay Baseball Properties are interested in bringing a team here; a team that could come from Virginia.

The general manager of the Lynchburg Hillcats, Paul Sunwall, has already been put on notice.

“We’re just a piece of the puzzle right now depending on what happens down where you are,” Sunwall said during a phone interview today with WWAY.

As they’re waiting, so are others.

Andrew Aguilar is the general manager of the Wilmington Sharks, a summer wood-bat college league team. As he prepares for the team’s 16th season in Wilmington, it’s uncertain whether they will see many more.

“It would be one of those things where it would be direct competition, one of those things where one would not be able to be here,” Aguilar said.

Of course, it’s all very early in the game. City Council still has to vote to move forward with negotiations.

Aguilar says he’s been down this road before. He ran a team in Mississippi until it struck out after the Braves brought a minor league team to town.

Mayor Saffo says the city has to weigh not only the economic benefits of what a stadium could do for downtown, but also how it would benefit the quality of life for the area.

Council will take up the issue Tuesday night.