CHARLOTTE -- The Charlotte Knights' move from Fort Mill to uptown isn't a sure thing yet.
On Tuesday, Mecklenburg County commissioners approved an $8 million grant to help the AAA team with costs associated with a new stadium. But questions hang over the Knights' plan to play ball uptown in 2009.
The 'land swap'
All three governments involved -- the city, county and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools -- have agreed in principle to the exchanges of public and private land that would free up the Third Ward stadium site.
Something else commissioners approved Tuesday: a set of lease agreements that eventually will allow schools officials to vacate the Education Center next to Marshall Park and move to the fifth floor of the Government Center on East Fourth Street.
That will push city and county Human Resources offices to the old Criminal Courts building across Fourth.
The Education Center would be torn down -- although commissioners Tuesday extended the schools' lease for up to three more years.
In the coming months, county officials plan to acquire Marshall Park from the city and the Ed Center from the school board.
The county then would exchange that land with MassMutual for Third Ward property where the county wants to develop an urban park next to the stadium site. MassMutual, a Massachusetts investment firm that owns the park site, would then proceed with its plans for a mixed-use development in Second Ward.
And, of course, the county expects to work out a lease agreement with the Knights for the stadium site in September.
Charlotte attorney Jerry Reese has sued the city, county and schools, alleging that they acted improperly in arranging the transfer of the Ed Center and Marshall Park properties.
Specifically, he says the governments didn't submit to a public process to assess other potential buyers, which, he argues, state law requires. Reese, who has courted the Florida Marlins in an attempt to bring Major League Baseball to Charlotte, said he believes building a minor-league stadium uptown would forever kill the chance for uptown to host a major-league team.
The governments have not responded to the two suits, filed in May and June, and Marvin Bethune, the county's attorney, declined to comment on them. Jim Dulin, who chairs the Charlotte company handling MassMutual's Second Ward project, did not return calls to his office Wednesday.
Is the site big enough?
Not for a major-league stadium, which is part of Reese's objection. It's two city blocks, 7.8 acres bounded by West Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and South Graham, West Fourth and South Mint streets.
The stadium would hold roughly 10,000 people, the same capacity as Knights Stadium in Fort Mill, said team Vice President and General Manager Dan Rajkowski.
By comparison, Victory Field, the AAA Indianapolis Indians' downtown ballpark, holds 12,500 and occupies 12.5 acres, including a 300-space parking lot. Charlotte officials have often compared the two cities because Indianapolis, which has a similar population, also has NBA and NFL teams playing downtown.
What about parking?
Team studies indicate sufficient parking within a quarter-mile radius of the stadium site for 10,000 cars, Rajkowski said. Also, the team is talking with Duke Energy about using its parking garage next to the stadium site.
But the Knights are working on a more detailed analysis, he said.
Again, to use Indianapolis as a measuring stick: That city has more than 6,400 parking spaces within seven blocks of Victory Field and more than 66,000 public spaces downtown. Charlotte has about 45,000 spaces uptown.