Smith family, Kannapolis propose new athletic facility: 'Rowan County is not interested . . .'

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette

Salisbury Post

Smith Family Baseball and the city of Kannapolis are proposing a $12 million-$14 million athletic complex adjacent to county-owned Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium.

Rowan County may have a different plan in mind — selling the stadium.

Rowan County owns 75 percent of the stadium and nearly 50 acres where the complex would be built. It’s located near the intersection of I-85 and Lane Street in Kannapolis. The property lies on the Rowan-Cabarrus line.

“We would love to talk to any of that group, or anybody else … about purchasing the stadium,” said Arnold Chamberlain, chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.

He went on to emphasize that Rowan County is not interested in the athletic complex project.

Chamberlain said he wants the county to get a professional to evaluate the stadium and surrounding property and tell commissioners what it is worth today, what it could be worth in a few years if the N.C. Research Campus brings the anticipated growth.

“If it’s worth $10 million today, and it will be worth $20 million in a few years, I’m willing to sit on it,” said Chamberlain, adding that otherwise he believes his board is ready to hang the “For Sale” sign out.

Commissioners agreed last week to set aside time at an upcoming meeting for a thorough discussion of the stadium.

Ken Deal, county director of administrative services, said Friday he has attended several staff meetings involving representatives of Kannapolis, the Smith Family and the city of Concord.

The proposal calls for nine baseball fields with soccer fields incorporated in the outfield of three.

A rendering of the proposed complex has a fishing pier extending into the adjacent Lake Fisher which is a water source for the city of Concord. The design also includes an area for paddleboats, a playground, and shelters at various spots.

The complex would retain portions of woodland on the perimeter of the property and includes a walking trail.

Deal said while the county owns the property, he doesn’t think the Board of Commissioners will be interested in putting money into the project. “I don’t see Rowan involved,” said Deal.

In 2005, Smith Family Baseball acquired the franchise from Carolina Baseball, a company owned by Bruton Smith, owner of Lowe’s Speedway; Larry Hedrick of Statesville, the original owner of the franchise; and the late Dale Earnhardt.

The stadium, which opened in 1995, has become a sore spot to elected Rowan officials and taxpayers alike.

Proponents of the stadium projected minor league baseball would fill the stadium and be a boost to tourism and travel associated businesses.

Attendance never reached projected levels.

The “Intimidators Sports Complex” proposes to host 34 tournaments a year including Little League, high school, college baseball tournaments as well as tournaments for whiffle ball, soccer and cross country.

Projections put the annual direct economic impact of the complex at $10.2 million, generating $61,000 in hotel occupancy tax and $315,000 in county sales tax.

The nine pages of projections break down the various potential benefits for Cabarrus County. No projections are shown for Rowan County.

Smith Family Baseball received a cut in the lease payment for the past two years –from $150,000 to $75,000. The county pays for utilities, including electricity, gas and the alarm system. Utilities are budgeted $72,000 for the current fiscal year.

Over the past three years, county commissioners have made two attempts to get the Kannapolis City Council to approve an ownership agreement that reflects the actual investment and ownership in the property.

The original agreement shows that the county and city of Kannapolis have equal 50 percent shares. However, after that agreement was executed, Rowan County ended up putting in substantially more money.

The agreement has apparently never been finalized.

Kannapolis owes the county nearly $500,000 in stadium debt.

After a decade of the county providing all maintenance work at the facility, the city of Kannapolis agreed to assist.

After using county tax funds to support the stadium operations for a decade, the county is now using the lease payments that accumulated in a special fund set up as a regional sports authority.

On Friday, Deal commended Smith Family Baseball for mowing grass and taking on much more of the regular upkeep.