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Prim can’t raise $$$ to finish Dash ballpark; wants city bailout

Winston-Salem Dash owner Billy Prim says he can't raise money in the open market and wants the city to pay $15.7 million toward construction of an unfinished downtown ballpark. But the real story, we're told, is considerably more complicated and represents a very risky strategy for Prim.

If the original game plan had worked out, the rebranded Winston-Salem Dash (High Class A; Carolina League) would be playing in front of huge crowds at a new downtown ballpark.

Instead, the Dash are playing at Wake Forest Baseball Park (the former Ernie Shore Field) in front of small three-figure crowds, and owner Billy Prim is asking the city to borrow $15.7 million toward the completion of construction of the new ballpark, which will now cost a total of $40.7 million.

Prim says he can't raise enough money on the open market to buy out team co-owner Andrew "Flip" Filipowski and finish the ballpark for the 2010 season. The reason: the bad global economy and the tightening of the credit markets. City leaders say spending the money is a necessity: otherwise the ballpark would go into foreclosure.

All of this is true. But the fuller picture is considerably more complex, we're told, and asking the city for money represents a risky attempt by Prim to hold onto the Dash and the ballpark.

We're told traditional lenders have indeed passed on lending Prim enough money to buy out Filipowski and finish the ballpark. A credit crunch has a lot to do with that, but the other factor has been Prim's refusal to put his other companies up as collateral. And as any good businessperson knows, you're not going to get a noncollateralized loan in this economy. He has arranged an additional $15 million in financing, but ran into a wall with the higher number.

Further complicating things: Prim's inability to secure outside investment in the Dash. We've been told he had discussions with potential minority owners; we know of one who passed because they disagreed with Prim's valuation of the franchise and wanted to take a more active role in running operations. Prim basically wanted a passive investor; we're not so sure his track record with the Dash merits that sort of treatment. One outside investor is reportedly kicking in a million or so toward the ballpark project, but this comes through Prim's development company.

So Plan C is now in effect: asking the city for a bailout. Under his proposal, the city would borrow $12.7 million from BB&T and hand it over to Prim, who would pay off disgruntled subcontrator, settle outstanding liens and finish construction of the ballpark. Another $2 million would be funneled to Prim's development company, Brookstown Development Partners LLC, for daily operations. All in all, the city will have put in $24.7 million toward the ballpark and have no ownership in the project: Prim's lenders have first claim on revenues.

And even if this does come to pass, the Dash will be operating under a huge debt load for next season and beyond, requiring an average attendance of 4,000 just to break even. That's something the team's never done. We think Winston-Salem is a great ballpark market and the team should draw well, but that's a tough nightly nut.

RELATED STORIES: How can Dash pick up the pieces for 2010?; Dash confirms no games at new ballpark this season; New Winston-Salem ballpark unlikely to open this seasonDash to play at Ernie Shore Field through June 17 — at least; Dash announces new mascot; still working on new ballpark; Prim seeks $6 million in outside financing to complete ballparkWill new Winston-Salem ballpark open on time?; Prim sought additional city financing for new W-S ballparkMore details released on Winston-Salem ballpark upgradesPrim: New Winston-Salem ballpark may not open in April;  New for 2009: The Winston-Salem Dash; New Winston-Salem ballpark opening may be delayed

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