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Hard ball: In surprise move, Guilford commissioners pull support of High Point baseball stadium
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Hard ball: In surprise move, Guilford commissioners pull support of High Point baseball stadium

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GREENSBORO — It wasn't exactly a strikeout for the city of High Point. 

But the Guilford County Board of Commissioners made it clear Monday night that, after some taxpayers cried foul, they won't be paying for a baseball stadium that has already been built. 

Instead, commissioners voted 7-2 along party lines to support a new economic development plan that will give up to $7 million to the city for future development around the Truist Point ballpark that adds to its sagging tax base. 

It was a distinct turnabout for a group of elected officials that just days ago seemed intrigued by the idea of helping High Point pay for its $35 million minor league ballpark over the next 20 years.

But commissioners, Democrat and Republican, heard from their constituents that the idea of helping High Point pay its debt, a debt it has already taken on, isn't a good use of county money. 

So between last week's regular commissioners meeting and Monday's special meeting, commissioners and county officials recalibrated and came up with a new motion they felt could support High Point while staying away from paying for the city's existing debt. 

Under terms of the deal, Guilford County will pay $350,000 a year for 20 years to support economic development around the Truist Point ballpark that adds to the tax base by at least 3% a year over a "rolling" five-year period. If High Point can't show in an annual report to the county it's achieved that goal, the county won't pay any money.

That's why the motion approved Monday says "up to" $7 million. The total could fall short of that figure.

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High Point Mayor Jay Wagner said the city has searched for a way to pump life into a downtown that pulses with activity only during twice-yearly international furniture markets. 

The stadium, designed to host everything from baseball to soccer to concerts, was designed as a "catalyst" project on 7 acres out of 11 the city purchased. On the remaining 4 acres, Elliott Sidewalk Development is helping the city build a food hall with plans for three more developments, including 250 apartments and a hotel.

"We got a huge amount of buy-in," said Wagner, referring to a group that has converted the old Adams-Millis mill into a mixed-use development and a $60 million children's museum championed by High Point University President Nido Qubein. 

In all, if the projects come together, the city could realize $250 million in property development. With what's already there now, Wagner said, the city has seen growth of $99 million after several years of tax value decreases.

The county's new role would help pay for streetscapes, sidewalks, parking and other infrastructure High Point might need to create a good environment for all the projects that could come to the heart of downtown. 

But only if the city can show tax values are increasing. 

Democratic commissioners Kay Cashion, Mary Beth Murphy and Carly Cooke all said they had heard from constituents concerned about the idea of helping to pay for the stadium, which opened almost two years ago. 

Cooke told Wagner: "I do think it’s important to reiterate that while that growth is impressive … we’re voting on supporting what is to come and we’re voting on what we can do to help you continue to grow. There are metrics built in to protect the taxpayer."

Republicans Justin Conrad and Alan Perdue, who voted against the proposal, said they support High Point growth but the scope of the incentives is beyond what the county might normally support. 

Conrad said the "dollars have to come from somewhere" and to support a project as expansive as this might open up the county to requests to help with big projects in other towns and cities. 

Contact Richard M. Barron at 336-373-7371 and follow @BarronBizNR on Twitter.

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