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Copyright 2017 News & Record (Greensboro, North Carolina)
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News & Record (Greensboro, North Carolina)

 

If you visit downtown High Point Saturday, you'll see a city humming with vitality. Sidewalks crowded with stylish people. Musicians. Food trucks. Buses and vans on the move. Beautiful buildings busy with comings and goings. Trisha Yearwood singing on an outdoor stage!

Saturday is opening day of the spring furniture market. For a week in April and again in October, High Point hosts the biggest business event in North Carolina. If you want to enter a showroom or attend Yearwood's concert, you need a market pass.

The rest of the year, almost nothing happens in downtown High Point.

But opening day could mean something more if High Point builds a downtown baseball stadium.

There's no "if" to it, according to Doyle Early, a local lawyer and board member of Forward High Point, the latest group formed with the goal of revitalizing an old industrial city. "We're going to do it," he says.

As a long-time High Point resident, I hope he's right. But let's face it: High Point has stood at the plate with its bat on its shoulder and taken some called strikes over the years. Is it really going to swing for the fences now?

Like Babe Ruth, it is!

Ruth hit 714 big-league home runs. He struck out 1,330 times.

Earlier this month, the City Council approved a plan to purchase land and build a $30 million ballpark on a site just west of North Main Street a few blocks from the furniture showroom district. For conservative High Point, this is as rash as trying to steal home with two outs. But not trying to score is no longer an option, Mayor Bill Bencini says: "It's taken a long time to get folks in High Point to understand we cannot sit back and do nothing."

Except for furniture market buildings, property values in High Point's core city are falling. The largest structure on the proposed ballpark site, the former High Point Enterprise building, has been empty for years. So are other offices nearby.

Yet the area still has potential. It's not only close to the furniture market but to High Point Regional Health System. Dynamic High Point University is just a mile to the east. With the right catalyst, developers could be attracted, if ...

"How can we expect others to invest in us if we don't invest in ourselves?" Assistant City Manager Randy Hemann asks.

Good question. But the investment is huge - construction costs on top of millions more for purchasing the land and completing design work. How can High Point pull it off?

Here's the plan:

The city will lease the facility to a private ownership group that will operate a team affiliated with the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball. The city will retire its debt from lease payments and stadium naming rights, ticket and parking surcharges and an anticipated property tax boost from private development that will spring up around the park.

Obviously, a lot of things must go exactly as envisioned. The financing scheme assumes attendance of 2,500 paying customers for each of 70 baseball games, plus staging 74 other events during the year - concerts, festivals and other sports. The development would produce property tax revenue growth of $99 million over 20 years.

"With this one project, we can stimulate economic development downtown in a way that has not been seen since the Radisson Hotel," Early predicts, recalling the hotel-parking deck project built 35 years ago.

One of the guiding hands is a man who's well-known in Greensboro - Ray Gibbs. The inaugural director of Downtown Greensboro Inc. is filling a similar role for Forward High Point. Since last year, he's been assembling land and talking with potential developers. With HPU adding graduate programs, and with skilled young professionals increasingly being able to work wherever they choose, proximity to a sports-entertainment gathering space can be a good location for new apartments, as well as restaurants, shops and offices.

Sure, there's plenty of baseball in the Triad, including the Grasshoppers in Greensboro and the Dash in Winston-Salem. But High Point can find a niche, especially if it draws from Davidson and Randolph counties. It should get in the game to capture some of the revitalization that flows from increased activity. Baseball appeals to families, old folks and young adults alike, although for different reasons. Some fans even watch the games. Ballparks have become a key component of many successful downtowns.

While the plan carries risks, not even Babe Ruth hit a home run with his bat on his shoulder.

The first pitch is expected in 2019. Maybe Trisha Yearwood will sing the National Anthem.

Contact Doug Clark at doug.clark@greensboro.com or 336-373-7039.

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April 19, 2017
 
 
 

 

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