Durham Must Pay $9M in Upgrades if Bulls to Remain

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The City of Durham, N.C., has been tasked with coming up with most of the $10 million needed to upgrade Durham Bulls Athletic Park, or the minor league baseball team will no longer be able to play at the stadium. 

As reported by CBS affiliate WNCN in Goldsboro, Major League Baseball is requiring these upgrades and the deadline for completion is April 2025.   

If the deadline is not met, Durham’s baseball franchise — made famous by the 1988 film comedy "Bull Durham" — could be in jeopardy, according to city officials.

Officials updated city council members about the cost of the renovations during the Durham city council work session Thursday afternoon. 

“The upgrades include the addition of a new batting tunnel, renovations to the office and the player locker rooms,” John Paces-Wiles with the city of Durham’s general services department said, as reported by WNCN.

Originally, the upgrades were going to cost the city approximately $5 million, but due to rising construction costs in the midst of COVID-19 and the crisis in Ukraine, staff told the council projected costs have doubled to $10.2 million.

While Major League Baseball is assisting with paying $1 million in renovations, the city of Durham must come up with the other $9 million. 

Durham City Council member Jillian Johnson voiced concerns during the work session about spending this much in public money on these upgrades. “Right now, I don’t feel I could make a convincing argument to this community that spending $10 million dollars on these renovations, in order to continue to spend significant amounts of money every year to maintain the ballpark to pay for the debt and the operations, that that’s a good use of public money,” Johnson said. 

But not move forward with the upgrades carries significant consequence, as pointed out by Jina Propst, the director of the city’s General Services Department. “If we do not complete the requirements of Major League Baseball, that flows through Minor League Baseball, then we would not be able to host games at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park,” Propst said.

Before making a decision, Johnson asked for staff to bring back data on how much of a financial benefit the Bulls bring to the city, WNCN reported. 

Most city council members said during the meeting they support keeping the Bulls. “I just want to be clear, the Bulls ain’t going nowhere,” Mark-Anthony Durham, the mayor pro-tem, said. “When people go to those Bulls games, it drives so much economic activity.” 

Mayor Elaine O’Neal also voiced her support for keeping the Bulls in Durham. “That heartfelt tie for a lot of Durhamites, including myself, you can’t monetize that,” O’Neal said. “That’s a part of who we are, it’s a part of what makes Durham great.”  

Durham City Council members are expected to further discuss this item at their next city council meeting in April. 

“There’s clearly a lot of emotional attachment to this issue, but people need to understand what that emotional cost is,” council member Javiera Caballero said. “My assumption is its going to be a great economic benefit, that story should also be told.” 

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