To say we've been receiving some mixed signals on a new Charlotte Knights ballpark these days is an understatement, but it's clear management will need to make some very difficult decisions about the team's future in coming months.
Usually when we receive several tips about an upcoming ballpark project in a short amount of time, it means there is something to the information. And in the past three weeks we received a flurry of tips about plans for an upcoming Charlotte Knights (Class AAA; International League) ballpark, saying Mecklenburg County officials were telling people the ballpark was a go for 2011.
Which, to be totally honest, didn't make much sense to us; anything more than six months out isn't a plan, it's an informed guesstimate. And given all the problems facing the Knights in terms of finances (borrowing money these days is expensive, though possible), it would surprise us if a new ballpark was not on hold, as we reported ahead of everyone else in March.
So let's flesh out what we're hearing from some people close to the team and some folks in the county government: the ballpark project is very much on hold. All parties are looking at a reevaluation of the funding for the ballpark. The original plan was to have the county contribute land, with the team picking up the cost of construction. That cost figure needs to be redefined: the price tag for the original plan is very much in flux — starting at $35 million and raising to $60 million by some estimates — but it is probably much lower than many assume, as the poor economy has led to a very competitive bidding environment for large-scale construction projects. Though there are some calls for public funding, Mecklenburg County is very limited to what it can spend on a new ballpark and would mostly likely end up in a position of financing, but not funding a new ballpark. But Charlotte is too attractive a market for the International League and affiliated ball to drop, so look for everyone involved to put some extraordinary effort into making a ballpark deal work there.
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