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What should Wilmington expect for new-ballpark attendance?

Carolina LeagueMandalay Baseball Properties is projecting 350,000 fans showing up to Class A games at a new Wilmington (N.C.) ballpark. How realistic is this projection?

As you’ll recall, Mandalay is working with the Atlanta Braves on a plan to bring in a High Class A Carolina League team to a new waterfront ballpark in Wilmington. Last week Mandalay honcho Rich Neumann was in town and said his firm is projecting 350,000 visitors a year to a 6,000-7,000-seat ballpark, for an average of 5,000 attendees for 70 games.

That’s a pretty major number to promise, especially for a Class A team. In 2011, only six Class A teams were over 350,000 in attendance — the Sally League’s Lakewood BlueClaws (382,070) and the Greensboro Grasshoppers (388,218), and the Midwest League’s Dayton Dragons (571,886), Kane County Cougars (410,262), Fort Wayne TinCaps (376,022) and West Michigan Whitecaps (372,555), with the Lansing Lugnuts close at 345,089. No Carolina League teams reached that figure; neither did any California League or Florida State League teams. The Winston-Salem Dash paced the High Class A Carolina League with a total attendance of 312,416.

Newmann’s promise of 350,000 fans per game may sound familiar: that’s the same projection made by Mandalay and Dash owner Billy Prim when planning was done on the new Winston-Salem ballpark. And while the Dash has been a solid draw, the team has not met that goal of 350,000 fans a season.

The irony, of course, is that at this time the promise of total attendance is a little abstract: the city’s plan for a $35-$40-million waterfront ballpark really doesn’t hinge on a total attendance of 350,000 or a more realistic 300,000. (Remember: the best business strategy is exceeding expectations.) The debate is over financing, with the city working to put together a plan with New Hanover County. Though Mayor Bill Saffo has raised the prospect of raising property taxes to pay for a new ballpark, that approach doesn’t seem to have much support with either city or county elected officials, though there does seem to have substantial support for tax-increment financing that would need to enabled by the county. Tax-increment financing — where increased property taxes in a specific area would go to pay ballpark debt — is a popular and well-established way to pay for sporting facilities of all kinds.

RELATED STORIES: Poll: Wilmington residents overwhelmingly oppose public financing of new ballpark; Proposed Wilmington lease: Mandalay would pay 12 percent of debt service; Atlanta Braves have tentative deal to buy Lynchburg Hillcats; New Wilmington ballpark would be part of hotel, marina complex; Wilmington to move forward with ballpark talks; 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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