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Wilson approves new Carolina Mudcats ballpark

Carolina MudcatsIt’s a homecoming of sorts, as Wilson approved a new Carolina Mudcats ballpark positioned as part of a larger sports/entertainment complex in the North Carolina community.

How is it a homecoming? When Steve Bryant moved the Columbus Mudcats of the Class AA Southern League to Zebulon, N.C. in 1991, Five County Stadium wasn’t completed. So the Carolina Mudcats began their history playing out of Wilson’s historic Fleming Stadium.

That the Mudcats would leave Zebulon was pretty much a given; we reported back in March that team owner Milwaukee Brewers and Wilson had signed a Memorandum of Understanding regarding a new ballpark, and there were reports of the Brewers talking with other communities about relocation as well. While the Brewers did price out upgrades to meet the MiLB specs and presented a plan to Wake County costing some $15 million, the Board of Commissioners passed on the plan. Now it seems amazing that an extensive renovation would cost only $15 million, including a new right-field multilevel home clubhouse, a renovation of the current home clubhouse for use by visiting teams, a new playing field, a new sky deck, upgraded LED lighting, and a new clubhouse for women.

So the team will move to a $75.5-million new Carolina Mudcats ballpark in 2026. That new ballpark will feature 3,500 fixed seats and room for 1,000 SRO ticket holders; a club and banquet facility accommodating 250; 10-12 suites; and a kids’ play area. To allow for year-round use, synthetic turf is planned. It will be located next to Whirligig Park, on a site bordered by Goldsboro, Lodge and Hines streets.

The new Carolina Mudcats ballpark is envisioned as the core of a $280-million development, which includes some $212 million in private investments. Growth fueled by the development, as well as hotel taxes, is expected to be part of the bond backing, with Wilson looking at a general obligation bond to pay for the new ballpark. Planned as part of the private investments: a hotel with 100 rooms, retail/restaurant space, apartments and townhouses. Durham-based New South Ventures Wilson, LLC, will oversee the ballpark construction and invest $212 million of its own money in the project.

State approval required for Wilson’s issuance of bonds.

There are some issues that Wilson officials will need to address. First, the Brewers’ lease at Five County Stadium runs through 2027, though the new ballpark is planned to be ready for a move in the 2026 season. (Yes, we see summer-collegiate ball in Zebulon’s future.) While creating a new ballpark, Wake County–which has an 85 percent ownership stake in Five County Stadium–is simultaneously on the hook for the Zebulon ballpark. Second, while Zebulon is the smallest market in the minors, Wilson is not exactly a metropolis, with a population of 49,310. Third, the ownership of the summer-collegiate Wilson Tobs is raising issues about how the new ballpark funding came to be and why the Coastal Plain League team was not considered as a lead tenant. The Tobs have done much to promote the local baseball world with maintenance of classic Fleming Stadium and establishment of the North Carolina Baseball Museum, and it hosted many notable exhibitions over the years, including a 1961 Roger Maris/Harmon Killebrew/Jim Gentile home-run tour that’s the subject of our Home Runs: Tales of Tonks, Taters, Contests and Derbies book by Andy Strasberg.

RELATED STORIES: Brewers explore Carolina Mudcats Wilson relocation; Milwaukee Brewers Buy Carolina MudcatsBrewers Negotiating to Buy Carolina Mudcats

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