Gastonia officials say it is not a formality that the Gastonia Grizzlies (summer collegiate; Coastal Plain League) will occupy a proposed new ballpark, potentially opening the door for suitors from professional baseball.
Gastonia, NC is planning a proposed new ballpark that will could anchor its larger 16-acre Franklin Urban Sports and Entertainment (FUSE) District redevelopment initiative. Though there is plenty of work remaining to make the proposed $21.5 million ballpark a reality, construction could begin later this year in anticipation of a 2021 opening.
It has been seen as a forgone conclusion that the Grizzlies will be the primary tenant of the ballpark, but city officials say that is not a guarantee. The city and Grizzlies have a lease through 2020 to cover the team’s current home, Sims Legion Park. However, there is no agreement beyond that and officials are indicating that they could solicit bids from parties interested in the new ballpark later this year.
The Grizzlies ownership structure underwent a shakeup last year, when Jesse and Emily Cole sold their majority stake to National Sports Services while retaining a minority share. It will therefore be up to National Sports Services to lead the way in discussions with the city, and the firm has every intention of pursuing a deal. More from Gaston Gazette:
National Sports Services President Matt Perry said the company has every intention and expectation of becoming the sole baseball franchise in Gastonia’s new stadium.
“We would hope we’re able to discuss lease terms with the city sooner rather than later,” he said.
The company invested in the Grizzlies because it knew the franchise had already created a very strong foundation in Gastonia. But Perry said they also knew of the new stadium project that Cole had been promoting with the city for years.
“So our whole reason for deciding to make this financial commitment was related to being the prime tenant in a new stadium,” said Perry. “With anything less than that, there’s absolutely no way we can meet our financial goals for our investors.”
Given that it is in a crowded region that includes the Kannapolis Intimidators (Low A; Sally League) and Charlotte Knights (Class AAA; International League), it seems unlikely that Gastonia would land an affiliated Minor League Baseball team. (MiLB’s territorial issues would seem to be in play here: Gastonia County is adjacent to Mecklenburg County, hosting both the Charlotte and Kannapolis teams.) That makes an independent-league club a more likely fit. Though it remains to be seen if other suitors for the new ballpark emerge, the Atlantic League is preparing to expand into North Carolina with the addition of the High Point Rockers and their new downtown ballpark in 2019. Gastonia’s last affiliated MiLB team, the Gastonia Rangers, played at Sims Legion Park until relocating to Hickory after the 1992 season.
The proposed new Gastonia ballpark will be designed to host multiple types of non-baseball events, including concerts, soccer, lacrosse, and football. It will also come with amenities such as a 360-degree concourse, cabana suites, banquet/lounge space, a covered two-floor beer garden, and more, with a total capacity of 5,000.
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