Staff photo by Allison Potter
The Sawmill Point Marina property is one of two possible locations for the proposed baseball stadium in downtown Wilmington.
Ever since the project was first presented to the public, proponents of the proposed downtown baseball stadium have rallied around the phrase, “it’s about more than just baseball.”
“There’s this narrow thought of, ‘it’s a baseball stadium, it’s where people play baseball,’” said Russell Johnson, owner of JRJ Productions. Johnson, who is based in Wilmington, has more than 25 years of experience producing and promoting major live entertainment around the country.
“Then someone from my business says ‘it’s a venue, that happens to have baseball play there.’”
Other than Trask Coliseum and Kenan Auditorium —which are generally overlooked by local promoters due to restrictions on alcohol sales and their rental fees — Wilmington’s largest entertainment venues are the Brooklyn Arts Center, which reaches capacity at around 700 patrons, and the Greenfield Lake Amphitheater, which sells out at 1,200 tickets. The proposed baseball stadium is planned with seating for 6,200.
“I think it’s an amazing opportunity to host bigger events,” said Blair Walton, co-owner of Pipeline Events Management, “which we don’t really have a venue for currently. Here we’re looking at 6,200 seats, plus the field in a concert environment. We’re looking at the potential to have a capacity for 9,000 people.”
Johnson explained stadiums work well acoustically because they don’t have any “slap back,” or echoes, found in a lot of indoor venues. He also said that many artists like to play in them because of the way the seating wraps around the stage.
“There’s a long history of awesome concerts in stadiums,” Walton said. “There’s no downside that I see; only positives for the future of the music scene here in Wilmington. It also lends us to more diversity. We can have some bigger acts that we wouldn’t be able to house here now because of the smaller sizes of the venues.”
Wilmington city councilman Kevin O’Grady said that while baseball has the final say on the stadium’s design, the city does have input, and one of the things it is going to push for are features that make it easier to use as a multi-use venue. He went on to explain that that is one of the things they learned from the mistakes of the Durham Athletic Field.
Despite having subpar set-ups for use as a multi-use facility, the Durham Athletic Field has hosted a variety of athletic events aside from baseball, like corporate functions, festivals and concerts. In July 2009, it hosted The Bob Dylan Show.
As for how this would affect the smaller local venues such as the Greenfield Lake Amphitheater and the Brooklyn Arts Center, both Walton and Johnson said they didn’t think it would be an issue.
“Different venues will attract a different size act,” Walton said. “An act that will play to 6,000 folks wouldn’t be able to play at Greenfield Lake. It simply wouldn’t work from a business standpoint or a logistics standpoint. I don’t think it will pull anything away, I think it will complement.”
Johnson believes the proposed stadium would have no problem getting bigger acts.
“We have 40 coming in here, 95 going straight down south. We are on a loop for tours,” Johnson said, adding that he thought Wilmington’s uniquely wide demographics were part of what made him so confident a larger concert venue would do well in the city. “I’ve been here 10 years, and from day one I’ve said that Wilmington needs [a larger concert venue].”
Not everyone is as enthused. Scott Harry, president of the anti-stadium tax group, said he believes baseball stadiums do not make the best concert venues and that this is just another way the city is trying to sell the public on the stadium.
“I love live music,” Harry said. “But I think that the concerts, and all the other things that they keep on touting, are really just a smokescreen. If I can’t sell it to you as a baseball stadium, let me sell it to you as a concert hall.”
Approval of the proposed stadium still hinges on the results of the Nov. 6 bond referendum.