Okay, we get it! Everyone is excited and ready to “play ball” in the new $33 million baseball stadium proposed for downtown Fayetteville. Hey, I’m excited and ready! 

Well, now that the Memorandum of Understanding has been completed and sent to the Astros by our city leadership, they must now come up with a way to finance it and, hopefully, without the debt burden falling on local taxpayers. Doable? Sure it is. 

More importantly, I think the bigger challenge will be in keeping the residents of Fayetteville informed, involved and excited about the prospect of having our own stadium and Class A Advanced Minor League team here in Fayetteville.

This will be a challenge, one that can only be accomplished by effective and open communications with the community and keeping it involved in every step of the process. More importantly, an exerted effort must be made to make sure residents understand the city’s vision and the long-term positive economic development impact this successful venture will have on them as well as the quality of life of the community. 

The community must understand that this project is really not just about a baseball stadium. It is about economic development, creating jobs, attracting new businesses and industry and providing for our citizens those amenities now enjoyed by residents of other North Carolina municipalities. We need to build and enhance a vibrant Downtown Fayetteville that not only can we be proud of, but what every major city needs to be successful. Our city, county and community leaders must be diligent in this effort. So far, local residents seem to be open-minded about the stadium project, but they are naturally skeptical about the execution of the deal and rightfully so.

After all, the City of Fayetteville’s track record when it comes to getting directly involved with real estate and economic development hasn’t done much over the years to enhance  the taxpayer’s  confidence. (Festival Park/PWC buildings (both for sale), Prince Charles Hotel (shambles), Doc’s at the Capitol Building (fiasco) and the jury is out on the location of the new transportation hub still under construction on the corner of Robeson and Russell Streets. Skeptics think it is ill placed and being built backwards (like the Festival Park building) on a lot that is too small. Only time will tell. 

Couple these ill-fated projects with Cumberland County’s leadership decisions of putting the J.P. Riddle Baseball Stadium in the boondocks off Legion Road, a brand new county jail downtown where the baseball stadium should have gone, a $247 million dollar (bogus) ethanol plant next to a north side residential community and a more than $55 million Coliseum Complex in a field that no one wants to be associated with. Hmm? 

Altogether, I would say there is a pretty good case for healthy skepticism. This being said, both city and county taxpayers ultimately want what is good, fair and practical for the community in general. Hopefully, both city and county leadership have learned much from these failed and tainted ventures, thus assuring us that they are much better equipped and prepared to move the community forward.

Everyone, surely hopes so. A word of caution about our enthusiasm for the accomplishments of other cities. Example: Sure, Winston-Salem’s Forsyth County and Cumberland County have about the same overall population. However, the city of Winston-Salem has a population of more than 236,000, and unlike Fayetteville, when you drive around Winston-Salem you see the pulsating skyline of a busy and thriving city. There is Downtown commerce, industry, skyscrapers, stadiums, restaurants, parks and factories. You see the homes of 24 major corporate employers, half of which are headquartered in the city of Winston-Salem. BB&T, Pepsi, Hanes, Lowes Foods, R.J. Reynolds, K&W Cafeteria and Krispy Kreme donuts are just a few. Sure, we have Fort Bragg, but, it is not the same when it comes to being a strong economic development driver. 

My point is, we are not Winston-Salem, Durham or Columbia, South Carolina. We are Fayetteville, North Carolina. We need to move forward with this project, but at our own pace and with extreme caution. It needs to be supported, accepted and embraced by the residents of the community so they will feel good about it. And, the only way they will feel good about it is if they feel they are a part of it.  Transparency and good communication will be key. We do not want to build a baseball stadium under a cloud of skepticism or negativism. 

History has shown us that the Crown Coliseum has never really recovered from the hard, hurtful and negative feelings that surrounded that project. Over the years this has taken its toll in support, participation and economic development. No one wants to be associated or affiliated with anything that negative in nature. 

The baseball stadium and the Astros project must happen, and it must be done in a way that it becomes not only a positive catalyst for downtown economic development, but a catalyst for other important and worthy projects like the Performing Arts Center and Civil War History Center. Done right, this is a win-win for the Fayetteville/Cumberland County community. A win that will contribute greatly to the infrastructure of our local economy, our art and cultural awareness and our quality of life, now and for generations to come.

Let’s get it done! Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly. 

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