Haggling over baseball


Fieldcrest-Cannon Stadium sits right next to Interstate 85 in Kannapolis. This was a selling point 15 years ago when business and community leaders began formulating the idea of bringing minor league baseball to Kannapolis.

But the dream didn’t quite pan out as everyone planned.

“We never got the honeymoon most teams get,” said Kannapolis Intimidators vice president Tim Mueller.

From the beginning, the team has been mired in controversy, some of which still continues to this day.

It started out as a joint venture between Kannapolis, Cabarrus County and Rowan County to build a baseball stadium that could host minor league baseball. But cost overruns, bad management and less-than-expected revenues has made “The Cannon” a sticking point between the city and county.

The stadium, jointly owned by the Rowan-Kannapolis Sports Authority, is in a prime location, and that is why the city and county are fighting over it.

Built in 1995, the county paid a majority of the $7 million construction cost for building the stadium. According to a share agreement between Rowan County and Kannapolis, the city and county are equal owners of the stadium, even though Rowan County paid about $5 million of the stadium construction cost and the city paying about $1.6 million. Kannapolis is still making payments to Rowan County for its portion of the construction costs.

Rowan County also has paid for much of the maintenance costs at the stadium, although Smith Family Baseball, the current owners of the franchise, has taken over much of the annual costs.

The baseball team never has brought in the revenue that proponents said it would.

Because of that, county wants out of the baseball business. Commissioners see it as a money-losing proposition. In 2008, the county appraised the stadium and the land it sits on. They found it to be about $10.5 million. Rowan County also wants Kannapolis to sign a new ownership agreement based on what each entity actually paid to built the Cannon.

If approved, that would make it a 75/25 ownership, with Rowan County legally as the majority investor.

But Kannapolis doesn’t want to play that ballgame.

City officials see the benefit in the stadium as an attraction and a way to better the city’s quality of life. With the establishment of the North Carolina Research Campus on the old Cannon Mills site, Kannapolis is looking to capitalize on all the potential advantages that comes with the research campus.

The city is an ardent supporter of the team and the ownership. It would purchase the stadium and property with Smith Family Baseball to end the controversy once and for all.

The problem is the city just doesn’t have the money to make such a move.

The city has done its own appraisal of the stadium and property, but it is not releasing its number publicly. The city believes the appraisal will bring back a number much less than Rowan’s $10.5 million,  because it did not take into account that the land sits near Lake Fisher — the water supply for Concord.

“There are watershed protections on the land,” Mueller said. “Only so much of the land can be used, and the stadium pretty much takes that up.”

If that is the case, then Kannapolis has something to haggle with Rowan County over.

In the meantime, both Kannapolis City Council and the Board of Commissioners publicly support the Intimidators and Smith Family Baseball, but neither side can come to an agreement on how to proceed with the ownership issue.

The Rowan-Kannapolis Sports Authority doesn’t exist, except on paper, and there is a matter of what to do with $400,000 in that now-defunct organization’s bank account.

Besides, Kannapolis has bigger things to worry about, like selling its $168.4 million self-financing bond package to build new infrastructure on and around the research campus.

The new chairman of the Rowan board, Carl Ford, said he would like to have the ownership issue over and done with by the end of the year. A pipe dream, considering the state of the economy.

But there is still that goal for the city and Smith Family Baseball – that one day, they would fully own the stadium where the Intimidators play.

It would be a big asset for city to have a baseball stadium.

– Posted by Ben McNeely

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