by Julie Tisdale
City & County Policy Analyst
When I first heard about it, I thought I had to be missing something. Surely this couldn’t be right. But I’ve spent some time this week reading and researching about a proposed ballpark development in High Point, and it really is as bad as it sounds.
The city wants to spend a large amount of taxpayers’ money to build a ballpark complex. It won’t just be a ballpark. The facility would also be designed to host soccer, lacrosse, and other sporting events. But the ballpark’s been the headliner. And for good reason, I suppose. Because the High Point-Thomasville HiToms have been involved in these discussions from the beginning.
If you’ve never heard of the HiToms, you’re not alone. I hadn’t either, and I’m a huge baseball fan. It’s because they’re not even a minor league team. They’re part of a college league – basically an extra summer league for college players who want to continue to practice and develop skills over the summer. Nothing wrong with that at all, but it’s not exactly a huge revenue generator. I’m sure folks come to their games, but they don’t pay big money to be there.
But here’s the kicker. Under this plan, it’s not even clear that the HiToms would actually move to the new facility. They’re pretty happy in their current park, Finch Field in Thomasville, where they’ve been for decades. It just underwent major renovations ten years ago and is, by all accounts, a great facility. So the HiToms are just going to use this new facility to play some games each season and to create more space for their youth programs.
Which is easy to do, because the proposed location for the new park in High Point is 5 miles from the current ballpark in Thomasville.
Not only that, but there’s already an athletic complex in High Point that’s 4 miles from the proposed new site. If ever there was a completely superfluous project looking for taxpayer dollars, surely this has to be it.
High Point has struggled over the past couple decades. Furniture manufacturing, which was such an important part of the local economy, has dropped off considerably. Jobs have been lost. The Furniture Market still brings an important influx of business, but it’s only twice a year. I understand that the city is asking questions about how they can revitalize downtown and stimulate the economy.
But taking money from hard working taxpayers – moms and dads who are trying desperately to take care of their families, feed their children, and make rent or pay the mortgage – for a project like this that doesn’t provide anything even remotely approaching an essential service, is not the right way to stimulate the economy or help local residents.
The plans haven’t been nailed down yet. The location isn’t definite, nor is the cost, though I’m seeing estimates that look something like $24 million. And the proposal doesn’t seem to be for a project completely financed by taxpayers. I’d suggest all that means that there’s still time for the city council to rethink this project. And they should.
If this is really the great idea that advocates claim, then let a developer buy the land and build the park. Instead of spending millions on the project, the city council could put that money into schools, or job training programs, or local infrastructure projects. Better yet, they could return that money to taxpayers. People will go to more ballgames, buy more hot dogs, sign their kids up for more youth sports, and buy the associated equipment, if they have more of their own money left in their own pockets to spend as they wish.