SBJ/June 30 - July 6, 2003/Facilities

Greensboro team plans new ballpark for 2005

Despite some local opposition, the Greensboro (N.C.) Bats of the Class A South Atlantic League plan to build a $20 million, 5,200-seat downtown ballpark to replace 77-year-old War Memorial Stadium.

Completion of the ballpark is targeted for Opening Day 2005, pending resolution of formal complaints by citizens coalitions, who argue that building the venue in the central business district violates land-use ordinances.

The new downtown stadium would be home to the Class A Greensboro (N.C.) Bats.
New-stadium supporters filed suit to block a ballpark referendum scheduled in early October. Jim Melvin, president of the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation, the nonprofit group that will own the new ballpark, said, "If it comes to a vote, we're confident the county will vote overwhelmingly in favor of the new stadium."

Workers were already erecting a maintenance building on site to serve as the "focal point of construction," he said in late June.

"The outcome of the vote is immaterial. We got a building permit and a contract, and with state law in North Carolina, if you have those two things, you're [legal]. We're going to build a stadium," Melvin said.

Construction of the venue itself won't begin until the Guilford County Social Services agency, located on the site, moves late this year to a new $10 million, 250,000-square-foot building two miles away.

As part of what Melvin and Bats GM Donald Moore described as a swap of properties, which was approved by county commissioners, the Bryan Foundation financed the new social services facility in exchange for a deed to the ballpark site.

No public money is to be spent on the project. Bank of America and Wachovia, both based in Charlotte, recently announced each financial institution would provide $5 million in loans for the new ballpark. The Bryan Foundation and fellow not-for-profit Action Greensboro will fund the remaining $10 million.

The team's lease payments would service the debt. Title sponsorship of the venue also could provide financial assistance. Officials haven't started looking for a sponsor, but Moore said the plan is to ask in the range of $3 million over 10 years.

Food concessionaire Centerplate, based in Spartanburg, S.C., will invest capital in the new venue after signing a contract for two years at War Memorial Stadium. Moore said Centerplate plans to extend the arrangement for five to 10 years at the new ballpark.

The new facility would be only the second minor league baseball venue to be operated by a nonprofit foundation, according to SportsBusiness Journal research. The first was AutoZone Park, home to the Memphis Redbirds.

Architects are local firm Moser, Mayer & Phoenix and Tetra Tech of Christiana, Del. There are 14 luxury suites planned, which would be leased for $20,000-$25,000 a year. "We haven't even tried selling them yet. With no effort, we have informal commitments on eight or nine," Moore said.

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Baseball, Centerplate, Wachovia

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