It took longer than anticipated, but opponents of public funding of a new ballpark in Wilmington (N.C.) finally turned in enough signatures to force a referendum or adoption.
The measure would bar the city from spending any money on a new sports facility, a move designed to prevent any public funding of a new ballpark for the relocating Lynchburg Hillcats (High Class A; Carolina League), with the team owned by the Atlanta Braves and the ballpark managed by Mandalay Baseball Properties. Though all the specifics of any proposal have not yet been released, the initial outline calls for a private developer to build the ballpark and be repaid by the Braves and Mandalay as well as unspecified revenues from the city. Initially the opponents turned in more than 3,900 signatures, but a serious chunk was tossed out as being invalid, leaving opponents some 45 signatures short.
After opponents turned in 75 more signatures, enough were validated to allow the goal of the petition drive to move forward. By law, the City Council can either allow the language in the petition to become law or put the measure to voters in a referendum. Neither is seen as a particularly attractive option; not only will the measure put an end to any public funding of a new ballpark for Mandalay and the Braves, it could also hurt any future efforts for any other new sports facilities in the area — fallout that could affect the Wilmington Sharks (summer collegiate; Coastal Plain League) down the road should the affiliated-baseball effort fail.
However, this doesn’t necessarily kill the project: the petition drive applies just to the city, and New Hanover County could in theory be involved in some sort of financing plan, or the principals could proceed with a totally privately financed facility.
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