John Locke Update / Research Brief

Is a $30 Million Ballpark a Good Investment for High Point Taxpayers?

posted on in City & County Government, Economic Growth & Development, Land Use Planning, Local Government
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Since the idea was announced in 2015, I’ve been keeping an eye on a proposed ballpark in downtown High Point.  No one who’s read anything I’ve written previously about various ballpark projects will be surprised to know that I’m skeptical about this.

But there’s a new angle this week.  Nido Qubein, president of High Point University, has promised that a group of friends and local business people will spend tens of millions to build attractions surrounding the ballpark.  To be more precise, according to Triad Business Journal, he’s saying they’ll commit $38 million to build a park, playground, children’s museum, and educational events center.

In addition, he’s talked to developers who are ready to build a hotel and 200-300 apartments in the area.  It’s all adding up to major development with significant capital investment flowing into downtown High Point.

Nido Qubein is an impressive guy.  According to the High Point University website, “He grew up in the Middle East to a single mother after his father died when he was only 6 years old. In search for the opportunity to thrive, he came to the United States as a teenager with limited knowledge of English and only $50 in his pocket.”  And thrive he did.  He’s now enormously wealthy and sits on the boards of companies you’ll recognize, including Great Harvest Bread Company, BB&T, and La-Z-Boy. Frankly, if Nido Qubein says he’s going to get a $38 million investment in amenities around the ballpark, I believe him.

I also think it’s fantastic.  Private investment like this is what leads to real, sustainable, and long-term growth.  Nido Qubein has been successful because he’s been involved in businesses for which there’s demand.  His business associates are successful for the same reason.  They will not build those apartments if they don’t think anyone will rent them.  They will not build a hotel if they don’t think the rooms will be mostly full.

Qubein’s even heading up the effort to find an ownership group for the baseball team that would play in High Point and secure naming rights for the stadium.  This will also require private investors who would be willing to invest serious money to purchase a team or get their name on the ballpark.

But here’s the thing that I find odd.  It seems like Qubein isn’t having any trouble finding private money for amenities, a hotel, apartments, a team, and a stadium name.  If that’s the case, is it possible that maybe there’s private money out there that could be found for the ballpark itself?  Rather than asking taxpayers to be on the hook for $30 million for a new stadium, perhaps High Point should slow down and explore the idea with private investors.

And here’s another thing.  All of these investors have made millions precisely because they’re good at gauging which businesses will succeed and which will not.  They’re able, more often than not, to identify sound investments.  So, if they’re willing to put up millions for a hotel, but not to build a stadium, then perhaps that should serve as a warning to the city of High Point.  If there really isn’t sufficient private interest in building this ballpark, then maybe it’s not such a wise investment after all.  Either way, the city should be very wary of spending $30 million on the project.

Julie Tisdale is City and County Policy Analyst at the John Locke Foundation. Before coming to the Locke Foundation, she worked at the Centre for Civil Society in New Delhi, India, where she wrote about various economic and public policy… ...

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