N.C. City Has 'Plan B' for Anchor Ballpark Development

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Copyright 2017 News & Record (Greensboro, North Carolina)
All Rights Reserved

News & Record (Greensboro, North Carolina)


HIGH POINT — City leaders now have a "Plan B" for building a baseball stadium, the anchor of a $200 million economic redevelopment plan for downtown.

But they're still holding out hope for "Plan A" — in which a reluctant Guilford County Board of Commissioners eventually agrees to help pay for it.

On Thursday, the High Point City Council voted 8-1 on the new plan, which looks a lot like the old one.

High Point still would borrow $30 million to $35 million to build the stadium.

But unlike "Plan A," the new plan calls for High Point alone to repay the debt, without the county's help. It'll just take a decade or so longer to pay it off, city staffers said.

Those staffers said the city can borrow up to $38 million without raising taxes to cover the debt.

Councilwoman Cynthia Davis, an ardent critic of the stadium plan, voted no, saying residents have neither seen the figures nor been asked whether they want the city to take on extra debt.

Her opposition has been a source of tension among the council.

At one point in the discussion, Davis interrupted Randy Hemann, assistant city manager, to ask why council members were being asked to vote on a plan they just received.

Mayor Bill Bencini asked her to hold her question, but Davis continued. Bencini called her out of order, then banged the gavel while she spoke, drowning out her question.

The county's role has also been a source of tension for the council. Some council members haven't abandoned hope that the county will shoulder some of the debt.

On Dec. 5, city leaders will present the project to the state Local Government Commission, which must give its permission before High Point can borrow the money for the stadium.

Councilman Latimer Alexander said city leaders will present "Plan A" if commissioners change their minds between now and then, or "Plan B" if they don't.

High Point leaders want to create a 649-acre economic development zone in a blighted part of downtown. The plan includes building a $30 million to $35 million stadium on land the city already owns or is trying to buy in an area bordered by Gatewood Avenue, English Road and Elm and Lindsay streets.

The zone would include private development, too. High Point University President Nido Qubein raised $50 million for a baseball team, a children's museum, a park and an event center. Greensboro developer Roy Carroll said he plans to build a hotel there, and High Point developer Blue Ridge Cos. said it will build 200 apartments.

It's part of a plan, two years in the making, to transform a blighted section of downtown into a thriving social and cultural center.

But High Point leaders need a way to pay off the bond to build the stadium.

Enter "Plan A." The City Council asked Guilford County to forgo any extra tax revenue generated by new development within the zone, which would cover 20 percent of the loan payments.

Commissioners balked, complaining that High Point leaders rushed them, that neither they nor local residents had a chance to vet the project, that the city had no backup plan for repaying the loan if the development zone goes bust.

High Point officials warned they will lose the baseball team that Qubein arranged to buy, the Atlantic League's Bridgeport (Connecticut) Bluefish, if the stadium isn't open in spring 2019.

Thursday's vote by the council ensures that won't happen.

Tim Elliott, the project's Baltimore-based master developer, on Thursday presented an updated development plan that calls for building in stages.

Once complete, it would include all the elements already announced - the children's museum, the hotel, the park, the apartments.

"Elm Street is going to rise up as your real cultural avenue," he said.

Elliott also talked about senior housing, office buildings, shops and restaurants — and maybe even a satellite building for High Point University along with graduate student housing.

The plan, he said, is a carefully calibrated "effort of private development that brings the city alive 365 days a year."

Contact Margaret Moffett at 336-373-7031 and follow @MargaretMoffett on Twitter.

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October 20, 2017


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