Fayetteville City Council’s decision last week to build a $33 million minor league baseball stadium and enter into a 30-year agreement with the Houston Astros has its genesis more than three years ago. Soon after being hired in March of 2013, Deputy City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney was given a task by the new City Manager, Ted Voorhees. “He asked me to come up with a plan to spur economic development,” Small-Toney said. “How about minor league baseball?” she responded. She had some experience because she had proposed a ball club in Savannah, Georgia, before coming to Fayetteville. But voters turned down a proposal to build a new stadium and the team considered for Savannah ended up in Columbia, South Carolina.
Small-Toney, Voorhees and Recreation Director Michael Gibson went to Nashville to meet with Pat O’Conner, president and chief executive officer of Minor League Baseball, to feel him out on Fayetteville. Soon thereafter, O’Conner came to Fayetteville and met with community leaders. Small-Toney told Up & Coming Weekly that his visit was positive, and he shared with the city that the Houston Astros were interested in locating a Class A team here.
By the summer of 2014, local officials were talking about building a baseball stadium in one of two suggested locations. The top spot was the vicinity of Rowan Street and Murchison Road near what would be a new railroad overpass and realignment of city streets. Astros Owner Jim Crane was in Fayetteville in April of 2015, and the next month, sports writer Kevin Richards was writing in Baseball Digest that “Fayetteville has changed a lot in recent years: downtown has been cleaned up and there’s been a growth of the economy independent of military spending. If a team becomes available, you can bet that talk accelerates.”
It did, and last week Fayetteville City Council voted unanimously to ink a deal with the Houston Astros for a High-A Carolina League team, with a 2019 opening. The vote is nonbinding, but it commits the city to further talks with the Astros and a plan that allows for the move of two California League teams to North Carolina for the 2017 season. The goal is to have a new ballpark deal, including the 30-year lease with Houston by the end of this year. The location for the new stadium had shifted to the city center and city-owned property behind the former Prince Charles Hotel on Hay Street. But the stadium won’t be ready until the 2019 season. In the meantime, the team will play elsewhere, perhaps at Campbell University. City officials are keying on a larger redevelopment that includes an overhaul of the historic hotel. It has an executed memorandum of understanding with private investors granting them exclusive development rights to property surrounding the hotel and stadium. It’s a combined investment of nearly $100 million.