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Opinion: A Vote For A Development With Baseball

By Rob Kaiser, posted Nov 2, 2012

Communities don’t spend $37 million to watch baseball.

They do make calculated bets that certain investments – parks, bike trails and road improvements, for example – will boost business development, residents’ quality of life and the tax base.

The question we need to ask on the stadium referendum is an economic one – will this investment pay off or is the money best left in taxpayers’ pockets or put to another public use?

It makes me cringe when people say they support baseball because they like going to games.

I support the stadium too, but whether I like baseball doesn’t matter. We are making a big investment decision, not picking a Friday night activity.

When Durham Bulls owner Jim Goodmon spoke at a Power Breakfast two years ago, he said you don’t just build baseball stadiums. He said you do development projects that happen to include baseball. The stadium is the anchor tenant that attracts other businesses to an area.

Wilmington City Council deserves credit for keeping the region’s long-term economic interests central to this project. This is not about the cache of having an Atlanta Braves minor league team in town. This is about development – and downtown needs a spark to attract more businesses.

Currently, the PPD building is on an island by itself – a vision of what downtown could become. Imagine more office buildings, condos, retailers and restaurants sprouting up around PPD and along the river.

It would be a modern downtown next to historic downtown – with water taxis, electric trolleys and the Riverwalk transporting people in between.

A stadium could help spark this investment by private businesses. It’s not a certainty, but it’s a bet worth making.

The reason is not just to improve our quality of life. A big reason is economic development for the whole region.

Businesses today are looking more for brains than muscle. Whether it’s a manufacturer or a technology start-up, they need the same types of people to operate the technology that powers their operations – engineers, software developers and Internet marketers.

Companies will grow where these people live, and many of these people want to live in communities with vibrant downtowns.

Look at Live Oak Bank – one of our region’s fastest-growing companies, which is currently building a headquarters outside of downtown. But its leaders know they are going to need a wealth of these types of workers in Wilmington, which is why they are big proponents of the stadium.

Many other companies that are currently in the region or considering growing here will have the same needs.

So please remember when you’re in the voting booth – you’re not voting on baseball, you’re voting on an economic development project that happens to include a stadium.

Rob Kaiser is the publisher of Greater Wilmington Business Journal. He can be reached at (910) 343-8600 x204 or [email protected]

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