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New Wilmington ballpark: uncertainty reigns

Carolina LeagueWilmington (N.C.) officials are debating whether to ask voters to approve funding for a new ballpark, as there are plenty of specifics — price, location, lease — still to be determined.

To be placed on the fall ballot, a referendum question need to be completed by August 1, so there’s some time to settle these issues (though a July 10 meeting date is looming). And a report from National Sports Services (NSS) outlining the potential scope of the project and the costs does provide a pretty key roadmap toward where the ballpark plan could end up.

While it seems likely voters will be asked to approve bonds to pay for construction of a new home for the relocating Lynchburg Hillcats (High Class A; Carolina League), to be owned by the Atlanta Braves, the issue is what sort of lease takes place between the city and Mandalay Baseball Properties. The total cost of the ballpark, per the NSS report, is $42 million, but it remains to be seen if the city wants to borrow that much. Similarly, a 3.5 cents property tax increase envisioned in the NSS study may end up being lower in the referendum.

All of these issues will be addressed in coming weeks. It does, however, seem like the Wilmington City Council needs to make some hard decisions before voters are asked to participate in ballpark funding. A proposed lease, prematurely released to the public, has already stirred some negative reactions from councilmembers and caused city staff to apologize. New Hanover County, meanwhile, might become involved in ballpark funding if voters approve the referendum.

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