Council approves up to $20M for McCormick Field

BATTER UP: The $20 million multiyear funding commitment approved by the BCTDA is only part of the funding needed to cover the upgrades for McCormick Field. Photo courtesy of the city of Asheville

“Given the number of baseball folks here, we should probably sing the national anthem,” quipped Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer as City Council kicked off its March 14 meeting. Those spectators got the win they were hoping for after Council voted unanimously to commit up to $20 million over 20 years for renovations to McCormick Field, the home of the minor league Asheville Tourists. (Vice Mayor Sandra Kilgore was absent and did not participate in the vote.)

Before the vote, Council member Sage Turner noted that she and her colleagues had been sent more than 1,700 emails on funding for the ballpark. “We received 35 pages of public comments,” she said. “There were three that did not support it, and then all the others did support finding a way to fund this.”

“Let’s play ball,” Turner added, before moving to support the funding measure.

Council’s decision represents the first of several funding commitments the Tourists are seeking to bring McCormick Field up to Major League Baseball standards, a requirement for the team to stay in the city. According to a city presentation, the money would pay for improvements to the stadium’s clubhouse, construct facilities for female umpires and other baseball staff, expand the concourse and cover deferred maintenance, among other updates.

Although the language approved by Council allows for a commitment of up to $1 million per year, Chris Corl, Asheville’s director of community and regional entertainment facilities, said the “worst-case scenario” for the city would involve spending roughly $875,000 per year. That figure, he continued, could go down if the project receives additional funding from the state of North Carolina. 

The total cost of the project, including interest payments on borrowing for the work, was estimated at more than $56.1 million in a March 7 presentation to the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. Asheville plans to share that expense with other funding partners, though commitments have not yet been secured. 

Under the scenario presented by Corl, the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority would contribute $1.4 million annually for 15 years, as well as a one-time allocation of $1.95 million previously earmarked for a streetscape project on Coxe Avenue. County government would chip in $250,000 annually for 20 years; the commissioners are slated to vote on that funding at their next meeting, Tuesday, March 21. 

The Tourists themselves would pay an average of about $469,000 per year toward the project for 20 years. And attendees at baseball games would also pick up part of the tab through a new 50-cent “facility fee” to be added to each ticket.

Public comment during the meeting echoed the sentiments of those who had written to Council, with nine of the 13 speakers supporting the McCormick Field renovations. But four speakers voiced concern about taxpayers footing the bill for the repairs, saying that the city’s budget has fallen short on initiatives such as expanded transit services and public safety investments. 

“I just don’t think it’s the responsibility of the city anymore to do this,” said resident and former mayoral candidate Jonathan Wainscott. “I want my streets paved.” 

Council hears update on ARPA projects

Council also heard an update on 24 projects funded by $24.9 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds. Asheville received the money from the federal COVID-19 relief package in 2021. 

After narrowing funding priorities, including affordable housing and workforce development investments, Council voted on specific projects in May. About $1.4 million has yet to be awarded; federal rules require that funding be obligated toward projects by the end of 2024, and spending to be completed by Dec. 31, 2026.

Kim Marmon-Saxe, project manager for the ARPA funds, said that 18 of the initiatives were currently underway and six projects were still moving through the contracting process. Nearly $7 million of the awarded funds has been spent to date.

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11 thoughts on “Council approves up to $20M for McCormick Field

  1. Mike Rains

    Asheville’s motto: “Pleasure before business”
    I find it very telling that the County put in a fraction of the City’s funds, yet, I will hazard a reasonable guess that at least half of Tourist fans live in the County. This disparity in funding/use is true of a many fully city-funded features like the Nature Center, Muncipal Golf Course and I could go on. And, to top it off, many county residents get the same water rate as city residents even though the cost to service them is much higher (because of density differences). So what am I missing here?

      • Mike Rains

        The article above states that Buncombe County is expected to fund $250K/year versus the $1M/year Asheville is funding. That’s a big difference. And more signficantly, Buncombe County tax base is 4-5 times greater that little ole Asheville’s. Why aren’t City leaders expecting the County to pay more of their fair share for these type venues that everyone uses?

        • NFB

          I certainly would have absolutely no objections at all to the county footing a bigger portion of the cost of this project, but at the same time it is important to remember that the city owns McCormick Field and thus would have a greater responsibility towards it maintenance and any improvement projects. (I say this as a resident of the city.) The Tourists (big T) have a contract with the city, not the county.

          Baseball tickets will also see an increase of 50 cents in price which will go towards some of the costs of this project. Granted that is not a lot in the grand scheme of it all, but it will put some of the responsibility on to those who attend games regardless of whether or not they live in the city, the county, or elsewhere.

          Also, the improvements to be made should also allow for more events other than just baseball for which the city will benefit from the ticket sales which will help offset some of the cost.

          In no way will I make any claims as to this being a perfect plan, but as I have mentioned before it has gotten to where Tourist games are among the few entertainment/recreational activities that the average person in Buncombe County can afford and, which as also been mentioned in this discussion including at the City Council meeting the other night, one of the few activities in Asheville that appeals to families with kids. I do wish the country was being asked for more, I do with the DeWines were being expected to pay more, and I do with the TDA was being asked for more (while I would expect that County Commission will approve the plan I will only believe TDA approval when I see it) but I do think that this should be done.

    • Mike

      The fact that Asheville City owns McCormick Field and therefore is the lead entity for any upgrades or changes. Yes, other funding welcomed, including from Tourist ownership, but the city has lead.

  2. Hiram

    1. The TDA should pay a bit more.
    2. That 50 cents per ticket should be $1.
    3. Beer sales tax should cover the rest.

    Do these 3 simple things and tax payers who are already overburdened and weary won’t be further taxed.

  3. David Taxpayer

    I sent an email in early January to all the city and county folks on how this was a bad idea. The whole request is simply sports blackmail by the DeWine Seeds-Silver Dollar Baseball group. It’s a shame that our elected officials caved to the blackmail demands of a private for profit group. And don’t forget the fine print of the city worksession powerpoint, it’s expected that an additional $4 million of taxpayer funds be invested in year 7 & 14. So, you are in the range of $60+ million (including loan interest) for this project. Not to mention the city is still paying the utilities and trades/structural upkeep of the facility each year. And don’t think ticket prices are staying at their current level, if the DeWine group is going to be paying an actual lease payment (around $450,000/year) instead of the past $1/year they are definitely raising ticket prices. Gotta keep that profit margin, right? What a disappointing decision by our elected officials and complete waste of taxpayer revenue.

    • FlynnMD

      Spot on. Another example of the out-of-town uber-wealthy keeping all the profits while exporting their expenses.
      And Asheville’s rubes are all, “Thank you sir, may I have another.” It’s no better than selling your daughter off to a pimp.

  4. MV

    Let’s have ‘Home Runs for the Homeless Night’ at McCormick Field! Let’s truck our less fortunate residents over there for an evening of entertainment and beer! What say ye, DeWines?

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