HIGH POINT — Greensboro has its downtown baseball stadium. Winston-Salem has its downtown baseball stadium. So why shouldn’t High Point — the Triad’s redheaded stepchild — have its own downtown baseball stadium?
It should — or at least the City Council said so April 3, when it approved $15 million toward a proposed $30 million stadium project that boosters call the Catalyst Development, intended to revive High Point’s “Core City.”
Among the problems raised by some critics — including council member Cynthia Davis, who cast the lone dissenting vote on the nine-member council — is the vote zipped through with little notice, the public will have no direct say in funding for the project, and, crucially — High Point doesn’t have a team to occupy the stadium.
Davis believes the council vote was rushed and without transparency.
“Constituents were left out of the process entirely,” Davis told Carolina Journal in a phone interview. “I’m just up in arms over the lack of citizen participation and knowledge. I’m not against any development, but transparency is No. 1.”
At the very least, Davis said, the project should be funded as part of a bond referendum, as are other government projects involving public debt.
“We have the audacity to approve this project, but we have to go to the polls for facility needs?” Davis asked.
For years High Point has been thinking of ways to attract people downtown at times other than during the High Point Market, the international home furnishings market the city hosts twice a year.
A couple of years ago, downtown booster organization Ignite High Point enlisted famed architect Andres Duany to craft a plan for downtown. Duany’s report did contain practical recommendations, such as easing the bureaucratic red tape for builders. But the highlights were “sea-can developments” around downtown using empty shipping containers and a community “gathering space” next to the city library.
Plans for a new baseball stadium had been floating around High Point for some time. Most of the talk involved luring the Coastal Plain League Thomasville Hi-Toms up Business Interstate-85, but the Coastal Plain is a summer college league with fewer dates — 34 home games scheduled this season. A professional minor league team would be the goal.
In the presentation by Forward High Point executive director Ray Gibbs, the plan is to attract an independent Atlantic League franchise pending completion of the ballpark, although plans for a local ownership group are still being worked out. Atlantic League teams each play 70 home games. The Hi-Toms haven’t been ruled out as a co-tenant.
As for the stadium, it would sit on a tract of land bordering Elm, Gatewood, English, and Lindsey streets. The first $15 million approved by the council would go toward preliminary design work and environmental studies. Construction could begin as early as this fall and be completed in time for the 2019 season.
Capacity would be 5,000, with a seating options ranging from grass berm and picnic area seating to luxury suites. And naming rights will be for sale, bringing in an estimated $3 million over 10 years.
The stadium would be owned by the city, but in theory would not require any new taxes. The project debt — funded in part through “internal loans” from the city’s landfill reserve and electricity funds — would be repaid with proceeds from the team’s annual lease, facility fees, parking surcharges, naming rights, and increased property tax revenues from development around the stadium.
Forward High Point, the city’s public-private economic development group, estimates $99 million in mixed-use development surrounding the stadium, which in turn would generate $708 million in consumer spending.
That project is now called Main Street Station. It’s projected to house 32,000 square feet in retail and restaurant space, 20,000 square feet of Class A office space, and 120-150 residential units.
While the project sounds promising, some High Point residents are skeptical, starting with council member Davis.
For one thing, there was little notice of the plans or the vote. “We weren’t given a handout until Monday night” of the meeting, she said.
There are also a lot of unanswered questions, Davis said. For example, the “internal loans” from city departments are undefined, as is the role Guilford County would play.
As of yet, the county Board of Commissioners has no planned agenda item to discuss the ballpark, although Forward High Point’s presentation mentions “county participation regarding increased tax base.”
“How can the council make such a decision when we don’t even know what [the county’s] role is?” Davis asked.