MINT HILL – When Sam Todd moved his family to Mint Hill in 1976, the population was around 7,800 people but that number has now grown close to 28,000 residents.
Along the way, Todd has seen a lot of changes. When he heard the town was proposing to build a baseball stadium not too far from his home, the long-time resident didn’t know what to think.
“Do we really need a stadium?” Todd wondered.
On Oct. 17, Todd joined around 80 other residents at an information session on two proposed bond issues that will be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. The two separate bonds total $18 million – a $15 million parks and recreation bond and a $3 million bond to restore Bain Academy – and if both pass, a homeowner in Mint Hill whose home is valued at $300,000 could see a tax increase of approximately $150 a year.
Part of the parks and recreation bond will go to building a 2,500-seat baseball stadium at Veterans Park, while the rest will go toward building four multi-use athletic fields and other amenities at a proposed athletic park on Brief Road.
The proposed stadium has drawn the most interest. After the meeting, Todd said he would be voting yes.
“We have to invest in our future,” Todd said. “It will give more kids a chance to play. But I also see the opportunity to have multiple other events out there.”
Town officials have said the stadium will also be used for many non-baseball events and that is
something Todd thinks will benefit all the residents of Mint Hill.
“We have very few times to get together, have spontaneous contact,” he said. “We don’t have anything that defines us other than we are a nice little town and we have low taxes. But it doesn’t bring us together as a people. What makes a great community is when you can have people spontaneously get together and have events. I would love to have some place that defines us. This may go a little way in that direction. I applaud the board for doing this because we don’t have any place where we can gather.”
If the stadium is built, the town already has a tentative lease agreement with local businessman Alain Lillie to bring a summer collegiate baseball team to Mint Hill. The team would play 26 games, and possibly several playoff games, at the stadium each summer.
Lillie, who once worked for the San Francisco Giants and owned a minor league-affiliated team, would pay the town $50,000 a year for the first five years of the 10-year lease and $55,000 a year for the final five years of the lease.
Town Manager Brian Welch said Lillie has told him tickets for summer league baseball games will be priced between $7 and $9 and that concession items will be reasonably priced. The lease agreement, if the bond passes, says parking will be free.
Independence and Queens Grant high schools would also call the proposed stadium home as well as the local American Legion Baseball team and other youth teams in town. The stadium will also be used for non-baseball events such as town-sponsored concerts, movies, food and beverage events and ceremonies and civic events. Groups from outside the town could also potentially rent out the stadium for the same purposes.
The new stadium would not impact any of the facilities currently at Veterans Park other than the addition of pedestrian connections between the two.
“It’s just not about baseball,” Welch said. “It is an amenity for us. It’s a town facility. We are not handing him (Lillie) the keys. We are unlocking the door 26 times.”
Mint Hill groups will get to use the fields and stadium for free and a resident asked Welch who else would rent out the facilities.
“Obviously, the priority will be Mint Hill groups,” Welch said. “The people that are going to pay are from the outside. You will have travel tournaments, they pay big bucks to reserve the facilities.”
Welch said if the parks and recreation bond passes, he anticipates the town will have to pay an additional $170,000 a year to maintain the new park and recreational facilities. That cost includes the hiring of two additional personnel and the benefits that come with that and utilities, among other items. The town has two employees maintaining its current park and recreational facilities.
“That also includes an equipment allowance for new mowers and the like,” Welch said.
One resident asked Welch if the stadium would generate enough money to cover the cost of operations.
Welch said he “fully anticipates” that revenue generated from the stadium, including from the lease agreement, will cover the anticipated yearly cost of maintaining the stadium. He also said the stadium, especially when sewer service comes available in the near future, will generate economic development in the area that will also benefit the town.