News last week that the Charlotte Knights are likely to be leaving their Fort Mill area stadium for downtown Charlotte might disappoint local fans. But the announcement provides the impetus for York County to take a serious look at what to do with that valuable piece of property right off I-77.
While the move still faces some financial and legal hurdles, an infusion of $8 million approved by the Charlotte City Council June 11 is expected to allow the AAA baseball team to begin construction on a downtown site off South Graham Street later this year. The team plans to play baseball in Charlotte for the 2014 season.
The move comes as no surprise to York County, which owns the stadium the Knights have called home for the past 20 years. The team’s owners have sought financial backing for years to establish a new home in Charlotte, which would make the Knights more accessible to a much larger fan base.
The Chicago White Sox AAA affiliate draws some of the smallest crowds in the International League.
But while the current stadium might not be ideal for a minor-league baseball team, it could serve as an excellent location for a number of other uses. County officials now can review those alternatives with some certainty that the Knights will vacate the stadium within a year and a half.
One possibility would be an agri-tourism center with an emphasis on events related to horses. In 2007, the county agreed to invest up to $100,000 in hospitality tax money to explore the possibility of such a center, and the research still is on track.
Early plans included an arena for equestrian events as a key component. The idea is to capitalize on a thriving horse culture in the county as well as to attract horse owners from other areas with easy access for trailers from I-77.
Surveys show that York County has one of the highest horse populations in the state. The surveys also estimate that the county rakes in more than $20 million a year in horse-related business.
The horse industry involves not only those who breed, ride and show horses, but also veterinarians, those who provide the feed, riding teachers and those who provide places to ride and board horses. Horses also would be an environmentally green industry for the county.
But the site could include more than just an equestrian center. It also could include new county fairgrounds, which the county lost when Winthrop University took over the former fairgrounds in 2007, and space for farmers markets, car shows, 4-H activities, trade shows and other events.
In addition to its proximity to I-77, the stadium also has acres of paving, ample parking space and a location in the heart of a huge metropolitan area. It also is close to an international airport, which would be convenient for visitors.
Another possibility to explore would be using it as an alternative venue for high school sports. The Fort Mill School District could host prep baseball, softball and lacrosse tournaments there. The stadium could be used for off-season events like the national softball tournament that draws hundreds of athletes and tourists to Rock Hill every summer.
We’d like to see the county gather input from residents and then move ahead with the most viable plan that will inject new life into the stadium.
Talk about an opportunity to make lemonade.
Based on an editorial published in the June 13 edition of the Herald
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