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Referendum on horizon for new Wilmington ballpark

Carolina LeagueA group opposing public funding of a new Wilmington (N.C.) ballpark says it has enough signatures to force a referendum on the issue; meanwhile, an expected offer of free land has come through.

As expected, the Cameron family has offered up to 35 acres of land along Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway to the city for use as a ballpark site. There are some serious conditions: the city can’t use any tax money to help pay for a new ballpark, and the city must make street improvements similar to any made for ballpark access. 

And it’s probably the weirdest offer of free land we’ve ever seen in a ballpark situation. Though the offer was made, the family made it clear they don’t really want to see a ballpark in Wilmington. Count the number of right-wing keywords in their statement:

“It is beyond comprehension that a unionized monopoly, paying individual players hundreds of millions of dollars and executives millions of dollars, comes to a small town, in the worst economy since the Great Depression and asks us to subsidize their organization by going into debt, and possibly raising taxes,” Sullivan stated in a prepared statement. “Over leverage, through speculative debt and the ‘if you build it they will come’ mentality, is one of the primary reasons for the current great recession. With that said, and if citizens of the region are in favor of the baseball project, we want to assist in making the best decision possible from both a financial and location perspective.”

Unionized? (No, Minor League Baseball players are not unionized. Only MLB players are.) Class A players making hundreds of millions of dollars? (They make around $1,100 a month.) Minor League Baseball as a monopoly? (There’s a whole industry called independent baseball that would seem to counter that assertion.) The city going into debt? (No, the ballpark developer is actually incurring the real debt, as in borrowing the money to build the facility.) Ballpark construction as a prime reason for the current economic situation? There are many right-wing buzzwords present here, but very few of them actually seem to apply to a Carolina League team. Let’s all remember we’re talking about a $35-million ballpark to be inhabited by a High Class A team owned by the Atlanta Braves and managed by Mandalay Baseball Properties. We’re not talking about Major League Baseball opening for business in a midsized North Carolina community.

This offer of free land wasn’t made to support a ballpark: it was made to cash in should a ballpark be built. It was also made with some mighty weird strings: the land can’t be turned over to a private for-profit developer, for instance. The family would retain land around the ballpark for development purposes, which sort of defeats the argument that a ballpark isn’t an economic driver: the Camerons made this free-land offer precisely because they think baseball is an economic driver. And they sound kinda pissed about that possibility.

Speaking of politics: opponents of any public funding of a new ballpark delivered 4,000 signatures to City Hall, which would trigger a decision by the City Council to either adopt the subject of the petition — that no public money be used for a ballpark — or put it to voters via referendum. With only 2,800 or so signatures needed to trigger any action, it sounds like more than enough signatures are on hand. Of course, the city could move ahead and approve a ballpark before the signatures are verified — which would be highly unlikely.

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