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News & Record (Greensboro, North Carolina)

 

The High Point City Council will meet privately Monday to discuss "Plan B" for building the $30 million to $35 million stadium downtown.

High Point leaders aren't going to wait 60 to 90 days to figure out how to pay for a baseball stadium.

On Monday, the City Council will meet privately to discuss plan B for building the $30 million to $35 million stadium downtown.

That meeting will come just days after Guilford County commissioners put off for 60 to 90 days a decision on whether to pay 20 percent of the construction debt on the stadium.

Commissioners said Thursday that they need more time to vet the plan and suggested that a committee of commissioners, High Point council members and others hash out the details.

But on Friday, High Point leaders said they don't have that much time and must proceed with an alternate plan.

The city will lose the baseball team that would play in the stadium, the Atlantic League's Bridgeport Bluefish, currently in Connecticut, if it isn't open in spring 2019.

"There's a timeline, and that timeline can't be arbitrarily varied," Councilman Latimer Alexander IV said Friday. "I think that's something the commissioners either didn't understand or didn't know or didn't want to consider."

If the commissioners need more time. "they can do anything they want to, but we don't have that luxury, and we're moving on," Alexander said.

Councilman Jay Wagner said Friday that he hasn't seen a formal plan B but believes city staffers will present some recommendations Monday.

The meeting is scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. Council members are allowed to discuss the matter privately because it pertains to economic development.

They could emerge from the closed session and announce a new plan.

Ideally, Wagner said, the county commissioners would warm up to the original plan: giving High Point a portion of extra tax revenue generated by new development in a 649-acre zone around the stadium.

That's really "a simple ask," he said.

"That's the cause of our frustration. We're really pretty baffled," he said.

Frustration has defined negotiations between the council and the Board of Commissioners for more than a month, when it became clear that the two sides were at loggerheads.

High Point wants to transform a blighted section of downtown into a thriving social and cultural center.

Elected officials and community leaders spent two years figuring out how to make that happen. They created a downtown development group, Forward High Point, to turn the ideas into reality.

Their plan? Build a multipurpose stadium on $15 million worth of land the city already owns or is trying to buy. The city would own the stadium and lease it to a baseball team.

There would be private development in the 649-acre zone, too. High Point University President Nido Qubein raised $50 million for the Bluefish, 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.

But those plans hinge on the stadium.

High Point leaders crafted a plan to cover 80 percent of the debt: fees on tickets and parking; money from the High Point Convention & Visitors Bureau; stadium rent; and what BB&T bank pays for the naming rights to the stadium.

For the remaining 20 percent, High Point wanted the county to give up a portion of new tax revenue within that zone for up to 20 years - less if the pace of development surpassed the estimate.

Commissioners were skeptical from the start, and grew even more so as August turned into September.

They complained that High Point didn't give the community a chance to opine on the plan.

They worried that the city has no backup plan to repay the debt if development fails to take off.

They fumed when High Point Mayor Bill Bencini threatened to pull out of the countywide Economic Development Alliance if commissioners nixed the plan.

And even after High Point leaders spent a month wooing commissioners - meeting to answer questions, providing copies of a half-dozen feasibility studies, offering compromises that would lessen the county's contribution of new tax revenue - commissioners could not be persuaded to support the plan.

On Thursday, only Commissioner Carlvena Foster of High Point voted against the 60- to 90-day delay, and did so after trying and failing to get her colleagues to vote on the proposal then and there.

On Friday, Qubein said he was "disappointed but not discouraged" by the commissioners' delay - a good sign for the project's future, since he is part of the baseball team's nonprofit ownership structure.

"This is an important transformational project for the city of High Point and we will continue to seek ways to make it work," Qubein said.

Still, High Point must "assess the situation and see what true impact it will have and if we will be able to proceed," said Ray Gibbs, the executive director of Forward High Point.

Leaders said Friday that they still will present their plan Oct. 3 to the state's Local Government Commission, which must approve any loan the city takes out to build the stadium.

Getting the commission's approval could be much more difficult without the county's support, they said.

"I cannot imagine any project that could be brought to (the commissioners) that would have so much direct financial return, let alone the social excitement," Gibbs said.

"This delay could very well have a negative impact on our ability to implement the project," he said. "We have always been on a very fast tract and we have never failed to mention that."

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

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September 23, 2017
 
 
 

 

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