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Team owners on stadium deal: No thanks

By Jessie Burchette
Salisbury Post
Rowan County could end up in court over disputed provisions of the lease for Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium in Kannapolis.
Smith Family Baseball, the tenant of the stadium jointly owned by Rowan County and the city of Kannapolis, has rejected the county’s final offer for a new lease deal.
Under that offer, Smith Family Baseball, owner of the Kannapolis Intimidators Class A baseball franchise, would pay a flat $75,000 a year plus utilities and mowing costs.
Smith Family Baseball, however, wants to continue paying the $75,000-per-year flat rate paid the past three years, with the county covering utilities. County officials have said they won’t pay utilities.
County commissioners Jim Sides and Tina Hall have met with franchise owners on at least three occasions to work out a deal, but have been unsuccessful.
Sides plans to recommend to commissioners at their meeting Monday night that the county revert to the original lease granted in 1995 ó when the stadium was built ó and modified in 2005.
Under the original lease, the tenant is responsible for utilities and required to reimburse the county for them. During the past three years, under the amended lease, the county has paid the utilities with no reimbursement.
Brad Smith, of Smith Family Baseball, said Thursday the franchise has operated under the original lease since March 1.
“We have our reading of it and they have their reading,” Smith said of that lease. “We obviously hope it doesn’t go to court.”
Under dispute is whether the county or tenant is responsible for utilities and the mowing and upkeep of the grounds.
Smith said Hall and Sides have been up-front in their dealings.
“We’re very appreciative,” he said. “We’re not looking for a fight.”
Sides said the original lease, which also includes payments on tickets sold, parking and other revenues, anticipated that the county would generate enough money to pay utilities.
But Lyman Bullard, the Boston-based attorney for Smith Family Baseball, has raised issues about some sections of the original lease.
In a letter to Rowan officials, the attorney claims the county must reimburse Smith Family Baseball the $50,000 annual cost of mowing the stadium and grounds. He also contends that upkeep of the Lane Street entrance to the stadium is not included in that cost.
The county has $90,000 budgeted for gas and electricity for the stadium in the coming budget year.
Sides and Hall are recommending that Smith Family Baseball be responsible for all utilities during the baseball season, March 1 through Sept. 30.
If Smith Family Baseball wants to use the facility year- round, as it currently does, Sides said the business should pay utilities year-round.
Sides and County Attorney Jay Dees are recommending that if Smith Family Baseball doesn’t want to pay utilities between Sept. 30 and March 1, the business should vacate the stadium during that time. All but necessary power would be cut off to the facility.
Sides noted that electric bills during the fall and winter have run $6,000 to $7,000 per month.
Under the original lease, supporters of the stadium projected annual lease payments of $150,000 or more. That was based on minimum annual attendance of 160,000.
Attendance last year totalled 60,000.
Sides said Thursday that he doesn’t want Smith Family Baseball to leave, but he wants the county to break even, at least.
Sides said county officials presented a third proposal to Brad Smith and his father, Dale Smith, during a May 29 meeting at the stadium.
Under that proposal, Smith Family Baseball would have paid a flat rate of $100,000 per year over the next two years.
Kannapolis, which owns 25 percent of the stadium, agreed to forgo its share of the payment, reducing the total to $75,000. Smith Family would have also been required to pay all the utilities and pay for the mowing.
That proposal also called for a completely new lease agreement to be in place starting in February 2010.
In a written memo to the board, Sides recommends reverting to the original lease and taking whatever action necessary to resolve the disputed portions of the agreement, including taking the matter to court.
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254 or jburchette @salisburypost.com.

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