Knights Stadium property piques developers' interest

Fans line up to enter Knights Stadium in Fort Mill on Tuesday for a day game with the Charlotte Knights and the Buffalo Bisons.
Fans line up to enter Knights Stadium in Fort Mill on Tuesday for a day game with the Charlotte Knights and the Buffalo Bisons.

The Charlotte Knights have not yet bid farewell to Fort Mill, but York County officials already have received multimillion-dollar inquiries about the property, nestled amid lucrative commerial acreage along Interstate 77.

Since the Knights' recent announcement of a site agreement in Charlotte, a Charlotte developer has indicated a $7 million interest, according to York County Council member Paul Lindemann, who represents the Fort Mill area. Lindemann thought the estimate too low.

Baltimore Orioles great Cal Ripken Jr. once wanted to convert the stadium into a baseball training facility, Lindemann added. Some have suggested it would make an excellent athletic facility for the area's rapidly growing public schools, hardpressed to construct numerous facilities in coming years.

It could be several years before the Knights leave the stadium, located on 32 acres between I-77 and U.S. 21. But it's not too early for the county to start planning for what will become of the land, which some estimate could bring $125,000 to $200,000 an acre today if it's sold for commercial development.

Council members recently authorized the county's economic development director to get an appraisal. Ideas are beginning to circulate, although some believe the best use is for commercial development.

"There are a lot of opportunities we should explore," said County Council chairman Buddy Motz. "I don't know that we would automatically sell it. If we get creative, we might get some revenues from a tax standpoint and make it an attractive facility to attract cultural events. Something unique that would help the county be recognized."

Booming area

While officials decide what to do with the stadium, land around it is quickly being developed.

Shawn Helda of Corinthian Properties, which is developing nearly 300 acres of commercial property around the stadium along with Fort Mill's Jennings family, has expressed an interest in it. The Jennings family donated the land for the stadium to the county about 20 years ago. One of Corinthian's best-known projects is Concord Airport Business Park, which includes a NASCAR auto racing research and development center.

The former Charlotte Bobcats' training facility next door is for sale for $4.5 million, said Lindemann, who added the facility has to use the stadium for parking.

"Without a baseball team, the stadium is a hindrance," Lindemann said. "You have a huge open ballfield with the enormously expensive upkeep."

The Knights' $1 annual lease on the property expires Dec. 31, but it will probably be two or three years before potential lawsuits in Charlotte are resolved and their proposed new stadium is built near Bank of America Stadium.

The tract surrounding the stadium is zoned for office, retail and multifamily use, said county planning director Steve Allen.

"A lot of those plans are in status quo awaiting completion of the northern bypass," said Allen, referring to the extension from Gold Hill Road near I-77 east and south to connect with Springfield Parkway at Steele Road.

The northern bypass is expected to open for traffic by the time school starts in August, Myron George, director of York County's "Pennies for Progress" road projects, said last week. It should be finished by late fall, he added.

Properties about to sprout

The finished road will further boost development, said Mark Farris, director of York County economic development.

"One of the hindrances there has been available infrastructure: water, sewer, roads," he said. "The roads are being constructed, and the county is in the process of upgrading water and sewer services there."

Drawn by proximity to I-77, Charlotte and Charlotte Douglas International Airport, Corinthian and the Jennings family plan a $200 million mixed-use development fronting on Gold Hill Road and surrounding the stadium. It has been dubbed Gold Hill Commons.

The first building has been leased to Sunbelt Rentals for its national headquarters.

The nearly 300-acre project is expected to have 2 million square feet of office space, 550,000 square feet of retail, plus some light industry, office buildings with condominiums atop and townhomes. A plaza with cafés and shopping also are proposed, and a hotel near I-77 and a cineplex are on the drawing board. The development would include trails linking to the Nation Ford and Anne Springs Close greenways.

"The grading is almost complete, and the asphalt will go down," said Kathryn Jennings, part-owner of Jennings Enterprises with her brother, David. "We had to wait for the bypass to line up with the interior streets. The majority of it will be commercial."

Her maternal grandmother bought the property more than a half-century ago, and Jennings' father, Doyle Jennings, later purchased the roughly 300 acres planned for commercial development. Doyle Jennings was an avid baseball fan and donated the land for Knights Stadium in 1988, his daughter said.

I-77 dissected their property when it was built. On the other side of the interstate, the family owns about 100 wooded acres that Jennings said will be reserved for family use.

Also, Koll Development has begun construction of Intellicenter-Charlotte along the I-77 side of Deerfield Drive, which leads to the stadium. Intellicenter buildings are constructed for environmental efficiency. Another large company, Baldor Powertron, an electric motor manufacturer, has been located on the other side of the stadium for 15 years.

At the northeast corner of I-77 and Gold Hill Road, other developers have presented plans to the county for a medical complex and about 176 acres of commercial development, Farris said.

Stadium: Asset or liability?

Although it would appear the best use of the area is commercial, the county "might also work with other partners to develop a visitor designation," Farris added. "Every community has a different appetite for those ventures. Tega Cay purchased a golf course and is controlling the future direction of that property.

"Or, we might sell it," he added. "The stadium can be an asset or liability."

York County leased the stadium to the Knights for $1 a year on a five-year renewable lease until several years ago, when the team announced its desire to move to Charlotte. Since then, the lease was renewed on a yearly basis. The county receives half of the parking revenue, and the Knights get concession revenues but are responsible for stadium maintenance.

Although the location is prime, the state's largest revenue source is recreation and tourism, Motz points out, adding he wants to carefully consider all options for the property.

"If we put it on the market, we would have to sell it to the highest bidder," he said.

Lindemann points to the county's need for new facilities and improvements to existing ones.

"We probably need $20 million for that," he said. "Selling the stadium might pay off half or more of that."

Farris recently presented the stadium issue to county council, which authorized him to get an appraisal.

"Even if the Knights get an agreement with Charlotte," Lindemann said, "it might be three years before they move. We may have to have it reappraised then. It's going to increase in value."