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City Sports Building Scorecard

Arena: 200 million, Baseball stadium: 0"

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When it comes to minor league baseball for Charlotte, the questions are these: who is willing to step up to bat, and when they'll be willing to play. Ask people in the know whether the Charlotte Knights will play in a new stadium in Charlotte and you'll get a lot of different answers. Questions remain regarding the city's ability to get involved in a baseball stadium project now that a new arena deal has been more or less negotiated.Charlotte Center City Partners President Tim Newman, the former general manager of the Knights, said he expects a deal to build the stadium could fall into place as soon as the city of Charlotte finishes dickering with the NBA.

"I think the capability is there to put a deal together for baseball in relatively short order as soon as the arena deal is finalized," said Newman. "In one scenario, it could be two to four weeks, and in another it could be three to four months."

But who the Knights would be dealing with is unclear, even to them.

"Every day we're trying to find out what's going on," said Bill Blackwell, the Knights' current general manager. "I know we are on the back burner until something is solved about the arena. I really don't think there will be a whole lot of help coming from the city, but the county entered the picture a couple of months ago."

Last week, when Creative Loafing called him, Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Director Wayne Weston said county staff had just finished putting together a three-inch-thick analysis of potential sites for the stadium including sites in Third and Fourth Ward; the current parking lot of the Charlotte Merchandise Mart on Independence Boulevard; Memorial Stadium; and a piece of land in South End. Weston's analysis didn't include who would pay the cost of constructing the stadium or providing the land for it. Blackwell said the team would be willing to put up $5 million.

Where the rest will come from is unknown now that city council appears ready to spend all of the proceeds from the hotel-motel tax on a new arena. If the arena deal goes through, the city will have no funds available for new capital projects unless it uses general fund money, which consists primarily of property tax dollars.

Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory said the city wouldn't be putting together a stadium deal any time soon.

"There are no funds available," he said. "If the county wants to get involved in that issue they have every right to do so."

But the county isn't any more likely than the city to be flush with funds anytime soon. Last year, the county commission raised property taxes 15 to 25 percent, depending on where taxpayers live, and debates in that body have largely revolved around what to cut from the budget, not what to add.

Last week, city leaders announced they had secured the options to purchase 32 separate parcels in four city blocks from nine different owners. The new site, which is bounded by East Trade, Caldwell and Fifth streets and the rail corridor will cost the city $13 million more than a county-owned site in Third Ward which it was planning to develop for an arena. The city shifted its sights to the new location because the county wasn't moving fast enough for some city leaders or the NBA. The city is funding the $245 million deal with up to $100 million from the city's hotel-motel tax, $100 million from Bank of America, Wachovia and Duke Energy, and $25 million from the proceeds of selling properties the city owns, plus the proceeds of the $1.5 million a year car rental tax. Half of the $100 million from the banks and Duke will come from the purchase of $50 million in city assets and $40 million of the other half will be repaid by the team ($23.2 million) and the Coliseum Authority ($16.8 million) after the authority pays the corporate donors $5 million for food and beverage rights, $6.5 million from food and beverage profits and $5.3 million from a back of house contract. Where the last $10 million in city debt will come from is unknown.

The city will own the arena, the new NBA team will operate it, and the two entities will split the cost of future capital improvements to the building. The city will cover the cost of any construction overruns, and the team will get 100 percent of the revenue the arena generates, including money generated by other events like the circus or concerts. The team also keeps the proceeds from naming rights, sponsorships and the proceeds of all ticket sales for any event held at the arena, but it also must be responsible for any operating losses the arena incurs.

So far, the length of the long-term lease the new team would sign -- a sticking point in the deal the city attempted to negotiate with the Charlotte Hornets -- has yet to be worked out. In the eventual agreement with the Hornets last year, the team was allowed to walk away after 15 years, before the city had finished paying for the arena. If all goes as planned, the new arena would open for business in October 2005.

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