Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Was Charlotte right to invest in the Knights?

The Charlotte Knights finished their 2014 season in appropriate fashion Monday, with a loss before a a packed BB&T Ballpark. But while you probably couldn't find two in 100 fans who know the Knights' final record this season (it was 63-81), most anyone who follows baseball in Charlotte can tell you this was the franchise's best season of attendance ever.

It wasn't bad for the city, either. The Knights brought a summer jolt to a part of town that's usually pretty sleepy at night this time of year, and the coupling of the stadium with Romare Bearden Park has brought a welcome fullness to this previously drab corner of uptown.

That's what the Charlotte City Council had in mind in 2012 when it proposed giving the Knights as much as $11 million toward building the $50 million ballpark. You might remember that the Observer editorial board balked at that initial proposal. But as we wrote after subsequent revisions, the city's deal with the team got progressively better for taxpayers, with the city's contribution level shrinking and protections more stout than originally planned.

The final deal called for the city to contribute a little more than $7 million, with Mecklenburg County contributing land and infrastructure. Now we have a very successful first season behind us. So the deal seems like a good one for the city and county, yes?


It was a good one for the Knights, for sure. The franchise realized all of the things it dreamed of long ago when it cast its eyes toward Charlotte  - not only full stadiums, but a buzz about the team that it couldn't generate from south of the border.

In a way, the Knights were such a smash that they affirmed one argument of those who opposed public investment - that the team was coming to uptown even if the city ponied up little or nothing, because the Knights couldn't afford not to. They were flailing in Fort Mill, and they knew what a moneymaker the move to Charlotte would be. 

Charlotte has benefited, too, of course, and supporters of the city's investment can point to restaurants, retail and condos already beginning to circle the stadium. But is that development a product of the Knights or of an economy revving up again? Remember, the uptown condo market was poised to take off before the recession slammed the gate on development.

Still, the ballpark has been what city leaders intended - another piece of a vibrant uptown, another reason to be pleased you live here. Yes, it's possible that there will be no season quite as good as this one for the Knights. The novelty of a baseball team uptown will lessen, and people might become less inclined to pay uncommonly high concession prices for a minor-league team. (That was the one consistent grumble we heard all season.)  

But we're glad the Knights made the move north. We're glad the city made a smarter investment than some council members initially proposed. Perhaps the Knights would have come no matter what Charlotte and Mecklenburg offered, but public investment ensured that move. After one year, at least, it's looking like a solid hit.

Peter St. Onge


FlopShot said...

We went to the game on Monday and my two kids said it was the most fun they had ever had, even though it was near 100degrees, and that includes two previous trips they've made to AT&T Stadium (SF Giants). And we live in Fort Mill. Several of my neighbors now talk about "going to the game" regularly, when they never talked about that even though the previous ballpark was in our town. So yes, this should be considered a success for the city of Charlotte.

Wiley Coyote said...

All sports should be user-fee generated and not with tax dollars.

We gave a broke Jerry Richardson over $70 million and he turns around and gives UNCC $10 million.

By the way, Forbes lists the Panthers value at $1.2 BILLION.

How much money has the Whitewater Center and NASCAR HOF cost us?

We're now going to give Jordan millions to upgrade the arena, the same arena voters DID NOT approve, but politicians said voters were too dumb to understand the need for it and built it anyway.

Al Webb said...

Wiley Coyote, please stop complaining and if you have noticed that other cities have gave money to the sports venue to attract larger events, wow if you do not like it maybe you should move to Mayberry.

Hoagie58 said...

Frequent criticisms bemoan the Knight's losing record, and in this article it appears to be, at least partially, implicated in the inevitable decline in attendance. Certainly understandable- to a degree. What many fail to consider though is the root cause of the losing record. In MLB, team rosters generally remain relatively stable, from season to season. Certainly there are some changes, annually, but the core is usually stable. This is not true in minor league ball in general, and AS A ball in particular. Using the Knights as an example, there were at least 14 players "called up" for duties with the White Sox. This is a testimony to the caliber of the players we watch on a (K)nightly basis. It's not that the Knights can't give us a good product, it's that their players are too good!