The Wilmington (N.C.) City Council voted to move forward with negotiations on a new downtown ballpark for an Atlanta Braves farm team during its Tuesday night meeting.
Per the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) unanimously passed, the city will exclusively negotiate a new ballpark development plan with Mandalay Baseball Properties and the Atlanta Braves over the next six months. The city has already identified a downtown waterfront site near the PPD headquarters as the potential home to the $35-million, 6,000-seat ballpark, and the negotiations will yield both a ballpark lease and a funding mechanism.
Normally Major League Baseball types don’t get involved with negotiations for ballparks for their minor-league affiliates, but this is a slightly different situation: the Braves would actually own the team. To that end, GM Frank Wren, Executive Vice President Mike Plant and former manager Bobby Cox showed up for last night’s meeting, as did Mandalay Baseball Properties‘ Rich Neumann. Atlanta is an anomaly in the baseball world, preferring to own its own affiliates to keep a high level of control over player development — and, not so incidentally, help the marketing of the flagship franchise. Atlanta currently owns and operates teams at the Triple-A (Gwinnett), Double-A (Mississippi), Low Class A (Rome) and rookie (Danville) levels; all that’s missing is a High Class A team. And given Wilmington’s location, the only option is a Carolina League club.
The natural speculation, of course, is that the Braves will end up buying its current Class A affiliate, the Lynchburg Hillcats. Despite what some outlets are reporting, the Braves don’t actually own the Lynchburg franchise, and the team isn’t going anywhere unless current team ownership agrees to sell the team. The Braves could technically move their affiliation to a Wilmington team from Lynchburg, but the Hillcats would still exist, as they’re guaranteed a major-league affiliate under Minor League Baseball rules. Still, when looking at current Carolina League teams and their lease situations, Lynchburg would be a natural target of speculation.
RELATED STORIES: Wilmington to discuss new Braves ballpark tomorrow night; Wilmington looks at development deal with Mandalay, Braves; Wilmington ballpark dead on arrival?; Another new effort for Wilmington minor-league baseball?
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