FORT MILL — The future use of a 32-acre site owned by York County, and the baseball home of the Charlotte Knights, may be determined in federal bankruptcy court.
The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of South Carolina is expected to hold a sale on more than 220 acres adjacent to the stadium in October. The land is owned by Jennings Enterprises and Gold Hill Enterprises, LLC.
Bidders for the properties have already contacted York County about buying the land, said Mark Farris, the county’s economic developer.
Possible sale of the county property was the major topic discussed Thursday by a county council-appointed committee looking at the future of the site.
The Charlotte Knights currently lease the site from the county for $1 a year. The Knights have already started construction on a Charlotte park, near the Bank of America football stadium.
The Knights are scheduled to play their final season in Fort Mill next year. The contract date for having their Charlotte ballpark substantially completed is Dec. 30, 2013. The team’s lease with York County expires Dec. 31, 2013.
Britt Blackwell, chairman of the county council and a member of the study committee, said the size of the property limits options. “We need to get the best return for our taxpayers,” he said.
David Bowman, a council representative, said York County needs to get out of the stadium business and sell the property. Once a sale is finalized in bankruptcy court, Bowman predicted, “people will be knocking on our doors, waving checks.”
Michael Johnson, who is unopposed this November for the District 1 York County Council seat, said while the county owns the “nicest parcel of land,” it will be at the mercy of the bankruptcy outcome. “The judge will pick a winner and we should look at securing terms.”
The only official item the committee decided at its first meeting Wednesday was to hold a public hearing in November at a Fort Mill location. The committee agreed it wants to hear other suggestions for the site. Ideas that have been mentioned include a track – either for horses for NASCAR racing – a movie studio, a flea market, and an agri-tourist site.
The three however stressed the council needs to make a decision that gets the best return for the taxpayers.
Farris said the county could seek a partnership with whoever buys the larger tracts, but the “easiest, safer, less risky” option is an outright sale.
From an economic development perspective, Farris said he would like to see the stadium and adjacent land set aside for light industrial uses.
The committee learned it would be expensive for the county to operate the current facility. The Knights maintain the ballpark, parking lot, and pay for the streetlights that extend to Springfield Parkway.
The committee also learned that 32-acre site is too small for options such as an agri-tourism site. The county is considering sites for a center, but is looking for about 160 acres that is convenient to the interstate but retains a rural character.
The proximity of the 32 acres to Interstate 77 should work in the county’s favor and increase the land’s value, Farris said.
But exactly how much the property is worth may require hiring a consultant, he said.
The value of the land and ballpark is one thing if you have a team, Farris said, different if you don’t have a team.
If the county decides to hire a consultant it would be paid for by money the Knights pay to the county and not tax dollars.
The lease includes a provision that for the final year the team will double its parking revenue contribution to the county. The result is a maximum of $225,000 that would go the county. County officials have said the intent is to use some of the $225,000 to determine what would be the best use for the property after the Knights leave.
Don Worthington 803-329-4066