Rowan, Duke agree to contract for stadium parking lot lights

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
The lights will stay on at the Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium parking lot.
After a nearly monthlong struggle, the Rowan County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 this week to sign a seven-year contract with Duke Energy for the lights. Under the contract, the county will pay $1,718.85 a month for rental, upkeep and electricity.
In recommending the contract, County Manager Gary Page cited Duke’s $200,000 loss on providing the lights since 1995. The company failed to bill the county. Last month the county paid $61,878 to cover three years of the 12-year total cost, leaving $200,000 unpaid.
Page told commissioners approving the contract was a chance to right a wrong.
“We got $200,000 of free service,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Page also said not having lights would hurt efforts to sell the stadium.
While other commissioners agreed with Page, Commissioner Tina Hall asked about possible alternatives.
Page said he had not explored alternatives, but if the board decided not to approve the contract and Duke cut off the lights, he would look for possible solutions.
He also noted that with Smith Family Baseball reverting to the original lease, the county will pay the stadium light bill for six months out of the year and Smith Family Baseball will pay for six months. Smith Family Baseball owns the Kannapolis Intimidators, the Class A team that plays at the stadium.
Hall also brought up the board’s decision to give Duke Energy $7.3 million in tax rebates for the planned expansion of its Buck Steam Station. She said if commissioners had been aware of the utility bill, they could possibly have negotiated with the company.
Randy Welch, district manager for Duke Energy, notified Page on Nov. 8, of the unpaid bill. In an e-mail also dated Nov. 8, Welch wrote the failure to bill the county was discovered in November 2007. He notified County Manager Bill Cowan of the unpaid bill. He said Cowan asked for time to consult all parties involved, but no payments were forthcoming.
Hall also cited Duke’s gift of $200,000 to the Rockingham County Economic Development Commission, saying she would like to see Duke make such gifts in Rowan.
“A lot of people have kept a lot of secrets over the years,” Chairman Carl Ford said, adding he knew nothing of the stadium lights issue until he became a commissioner in December.
“This is not my favorite thing, but we need to do the right thing,” Ford said.
Vice Chairman Jon Barber said the electric bill and the incentives for the Buck Steam Station expansion are separate issues. He noted the expansion will create 500 jobs in the construction phase.
Commissioner Chad Mitchell suggested the whole stadium episode is an example of what happens when government gets involved in building sports facilities.
“I wish Rowan County did not own the stadium,” he said. “I pray there is day while I’m still on the board that we don’t own it.”
Mitchell agreed having working lights in the parking lot is essential to marketing the stadium.
Commissioner Raymond Coltrain also spoke in favor of approving the contract, saying fees from stadium rental will pay the costs.
In another matter, the board unanimously approved three resolutions establishing a Rowan County Airport Advisory Board. Commissioners defined the advisory board’s duties, established by-laws and appointed members.
The advisory board will consist of two pilots or airport tenants, two members of the business community and one county commissioner. Commissioners appointed the five people who have served on the Technical Advisory Board, which helped develop a master plan for the airport.
The members are Thomas L. Greene of Salisbury, director of aviation for Food Lion; B. Clay Lindsay Jr. of Salisbury, with Summit Developers Inc.; Brian M. Cooker of Gold Hill, a retired pilot; Dink J. Safrit of Salisbury, a retired accountant; Jim Sides of Salisbury, owner of Today’s Trading and a former commissioner; and Commissioner Chad Mitchell.
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254.