Wilmington snubs stadium referendum

by Daniel Bowden
Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Despite a long campaign on both sides of the issue, the race to tally the results from the 24 precincts voting on the baseball stadium bond referendum remained fairly uneventful, with roughly 70 percent of the voters turning down the stadium throughout the process. 

The final tally showed 29.96 percent for the stadium with 14,746 votes, and 70.04 percent against with 34,480 votes.

This decision comes just a day before Wilmington city council was set to vote on a resolution authorizing the purchase of roughly eight acres of downtown riverfront property for $5.2 million for the purpose of building a multi-use stadium.

The proposed stadium was to have 6,200 seats at a $37 million cost, which was to be funded by a 2.5 cent per every hundred dollar property tax increase for property owners within the city limits. Only those living within the city limits were able to vote on the issue.

“The people have spoken,” said Scott Harry, president of the no stadium tax group. “And I hope the city council and the county commissioners have heard. Keep your hands out of our pocket.”

Mayor Bill Saffo stated in a press release following the outcome of the vote that, “Clearly this opportunity came knocking at our door at a tough time, when citizens are worried about government spending, even when the benefits are large. That’s why it was important for citizens to have their say and that’s why we put this referendum on the ballot.”

O’Grady has long said that if the referendum fails, the city would no longer pursue funding the stadium, and admitted prior to the decision that in many ways his life would be a lot easier if the referendum did not pass.

“If it doesn’t pass, that’s it.” O’Grady said.

The press release from Mayor Saffo echoed O’Grady’s pre-decision statements.

“It is clear from the outcome of this election that our citizens do not want to pursue baseball and we have heard them,” Saffo said. “We will continue to focus on providing core services to our citizens, just as we always have. We will also continue to look for economic development opportunities that will benefit our city in the future.”

The results of the referendum closely resembled the results of a study conducted by the Civitas Institute, which indicated the 59 percent of the 300 Wilmington residents polled planned to vote against the stadium, and 72 percent thought that using taxpayer money to fund the stadium was the wrong way to go about it.

Harry is not convinced that the stadium issue is over. He believes that proponents for the stadium will try to work other avenues to revive the issue.

“They’re coming back,” Harry said. “Instead of coming after just the city of Wilmington, maybe they’ll go for a revenue bond. Maybe they’ll try to get the county or counties involved to try to lower the burden on the taxpayer. They’re not going away.”

Harry explained that the vote yes campaign still has $36,000 in its campaign fund, and that his no stadium tax group had donated the remainder of its funds to support victims of Hurricane Sandy.

“I challenge them to do the same,” Harry said, “but they won’t, because they need it. What are they going to do with it? There’s only one thing they can do with it.”

Terry Spencer, campaign manager for Port City Baseball, could not be reached for comment.

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