Stadium lights to stay on for now
By Jessie Burchette
Rowan County commissioners have agreed to pay a whopping past-due power bill on Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium but may be ready to cut the lights off at the facility.
Commissioners and top county officials struggled Monday night to get a handle on a myriad of issues surrounding the stadium built in 1995 by the city of Kannapolis and Rowan County on the Rowan-Cabarrus line.
On a 3-2 vote, commissioners approved paying $61,878 to Duke Energy for lights in the parking lot at the stadium off Lane Street in Kannapolis.
The payment will come from the Sports Authority fund established for lease payments.
Duke had provided the lights in the parking lot since 1995 but never billed the county. The company agreed to settle the $262,000 bill for $61,878, the three-year limit state regulations allow.
Chairman Carl Ford and Commissioner Tina Hall voted against the payment, wanting to wait until later this month when the board will decide whether to accept the Duke contract to pay $1,718 a month to continue the lights. It includes rental and maintenance of the lights as well as the electricity.
County Manager Gary Page said he isn’t sure the county needs to have the lights on year-round. “Get the lights on a schedule,” said Page, adding, “This could be the last ball season.”
Page and Hall, who has served on a committee working to negotiate a new lease with Smith Family Baseball, discussed several issues to update the board and provide background to new commissioners.
Hall and County Attorney Jay Dees said all efforts to get an ownership agreement that reflects the true investment of the county and Kannapolis have failed.
The county paid 75 percent of the stadium costs while Kannapolis paid 25 percent. But legal agreements drawn in 1994, when the project was to be a 50-50 split, were never altered. Hall said the county’s total investment was $8 million. Legal papers show Kannapolis and Rowan County are equal partners.
Commissioner Chad Mitchell asked Page to make one last effort to reach a deal with Kannapolis. Mitchell asked Page to meet with the city staff ó with no politicians or attorneys present ó and see if a deal can be reached.
Mitchell said if a deal can’t be reached by next month’s retreat, he’s ready to ask a judge to make a decision on who owns what part of the stadium.
Mitchell said the ownership issue needs to be resolved before the lease or anything else is handled.
Ford agreed saying, “We need to know who owns what.”
In addition to the 13-year power bill, commissioners got another potentially costly surprise.
Federal and state disaster money may provide a bailout.
Page said the bridge failure on Stadium Drive during heavy rains last fall was due to the fact it wasn’t built to the initial design standards.
After a review of files on the stadium project, he met with engineers and the contractor who built the bridge in 1995.
The design on file called for a double-box culvert, but it was changed. Page said Tim Russell, who was county manager at the time, approved the change, but there is no record the Board of Commissioners ever knew of or approved the change in design.
“It was apparently done to save money,” Page said.
A replacement is expected to cost $250,000 to $300,000.
The city of Kannapolis may get enough disaster funds to replace the bridge. Otherwise, Page said it would have to come out of tax funds or the Sports Authority Fund.
Around $400,000 remains in the fund. For nearly a decade, the county was the caretaker of the Sports Authority Fund, but didn’t use any of the money.
Instead, the county used tax funds for maintenance, utilities and other stadium expenses.
Commissioners also discussed the failure to reach agreement with Smith Family Baseball on a new contract and problems with the 1994 contract.
Dees noted that Russell signed an addendum to the lease in 2000 that allowed the team to pay the lease in 12 payments, but it’s unclear if commissioners ever approved it.
Dees said the team has reverted to the 1994 lease and has an option for a five-year extension after this year.
But he said issues related to the utilities, the maintenance and mowing remain unresolved.
The contract requires the team to reimburse the county for utilities during the seven months of the baseball season. But the contract allows the team to use the facility 12 months a year, with the county picking up all utilities for the other five months.
Currently the off-season bills for the stadium are $5,000 to $6,000 a month. That does not include the parking lot lights.
Hall said on a recent visit, she found lights and TVs turned on.
“Taxpayers will be paying this,” she said.