Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
Salisbury Post
The city of Concord will have a key role in determining the future value and use of the 55-acre Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium site off Interstate 85 in Kannapolis.
The role of the city of Concord is the latest curveball thrown in the county’s effort to untangle ownership and other issues surrounding the stadium built in 1995 and owned by the county and the city of Kannapolis.
Scott Robinson, a Salisbury appraiser, apparently found the curveball during an extensive appraisal of the property.
Robinson was unable to find any legally binding agreement that gives the stadium property access to Lane Street near its interchange with I-85.
An entrance to the stadium property was built off Lane Street and it serves as the main entrance. But the entrance is on the Lake Fisher property owned by the city of Concord.
In his appraisal, Robinson tied the future value of the property to having access to Lane Street. From the executive report released Tuesday night by the county: “The conclusions of value, highest and best use, and other analysis assume full legal and essentially free access to Lane Street and extension of utilities into the site.”
Robinson advised commissioners during a closed session that “Concord should become the county’s new best friend.”
Without the Lane Street access, the property has access only to Moose Road which does not have an interchange with I-85.
Assuming access is worked out, Robinson estimated the value of the property at $87,000 to $109,000 per acre. An estimated 45 acres of the 55-acre tract is considered buildable. Overall, he estimated the value at $5.7 million as vacant property or $10.6 million with the stadium and adjacent property developed.
“This site and the immediate area will continue to grow in value at rates beyond basic inflation,” Robinson wrote.
He concluded that the stadium location is a prime site ó assuming the Lane Street access exists legally ó and suggested that options include letting the stadium operate until a later date with possible co-development of the adjacent 26 acres. But Robinson cautioned that selling off that portion limits the future flexibility if the overall site would be preferred by a developer.
He added that the decision will be a tough call and needs careful deliberation.
County commissioners hired Robinson nearly six months ago to do an analysis of the property for a fee of $10,000.
Commissioners expect to use the information in lease negotiations with the tenant and in dealing with the city of Kannapolis related to ownership.
The county contends it owns 75 percent of the property and that the city of Kannapolis has a 25-percent share, based on each government’s investment in the ballfield project.
Kannapolis maintains it has a 50-percent share and existing legal documents support that position.
Following a closed session Tuesday night, Chairman Arnold Chamberlain appointed commissioners Jim Sides and Jon Barber to meet with Kannapolis in hopes of settling the ownership issue.
Overall, Robinson suggested the best use may be a combination of the stadium and development of the 26 acres of adjacent property in a mix of office-institutional and retail.
He also noted that the option exists to develop a recreational park with additional ballfields, a project which as been suggested by some Kannapolis groups.
“The subject site presents many opportunities to realize a good return for its owners over time. This may be in actual dollars, in public use/quality of life, or a combination of both. It is these realizations that lead me to the opinion that the use value and market value might not be as far apart as firm impressions may indicate.”
Robinson also provided an analysis of the current stadium lease, concluding that the current lease with Smith Family Baseball is as good a lease as can be realized. Smith Family Baseball owns the Class A Kannapolis Intimidators, a franchise of the Chicago White Sox.
The overall lease is based on a rent of $45,000, with a percentage of revenue from tickets sold, parking and concessions. The county collected as much as $150,000 in the early years.The county granted Smith Family Baseball a deal that allows a flat fee of $75,000, but the tenant agreed to do more of the maintenance previously done by the county.
Robinson wrote that the $75,000 flat-fee lease, which expires this year “has allowed the process of loyalty and word of mouth to work toward greater attendance. It appears this is working given the growth in tickets sold over the last two years, most appreciably over the most recent season. It is interesting that the attendance is on a growth curve coinciding with general population growth and hopefully growth in disposable income. This should bode well for the current club/team, and long term will mean a rise in revenues to the owners of the stadium.”
Robinson also concluded that the net costs to the owners may be less with the reduced lease price, since the club is taking care of maintenance and related expense.
“It appears to me that good faith now exists between the county and the baseball team owners,” wrote Robinson.
The annual maintenance cost has been a sore spot between the county and the city of Kannapolis. For nearly a decade, the city refused to provide any maintenance with the county doing all of the work and paying all of the costs.
Robinson praised Smith Family Baseball, calling it effective and competent management. He cited the “elusiveness of market information” related to leases of similar size stadiums. He noted in his report that one manager compared stadium leases to snowflakes: “There are no two alike and just when you get to them, the melt.”
Robinson wrote that 12 new minor league baseball stadiums opened in 2002 and 12 more in 2003 and 2004. The average cost per stadium was $21.2 million.
The county and city of Kannapolis spent around $7 million to build the 4,700 seat stadium.