Knights look for approval to begin preparing Charlotte stadium site

Mecklenburg County commissioners might act tonight

CHARLOTTE -- The Charlotte Knights still hope to play in uptown during the 2009 season. But extensive construction on its planned stadium in Third Ward may not start for another couple months.

That's because the county has not yet secured the rights to a nearby tract of land for a new park, and the Knights haven't closed on a financing deal to pay for building the stadium. Those were two conditions of a lease agreement approved by Mecklenburg County commissioners earlier this year.

Tonight, commissioners could vote to amend parts of the lease and allow the Knights to do more work near the stadium site until the financing and park land deals are complete.

The changes, if approved, also would let the team and county formally sign the stadium lease.

But the team won't be able to demolish the Virginia Paper Building that stands at one end of the planned stadium site. It also won't be able to close a portion of Third Street or start other construction on the stadium.

The Knights are planning a nearly 10,000-seat stadium on county land between Mint, Fourth and Graham streets and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The Triple-A team plays in Fort Mill.

The stadium was part of a deal that also would add a new park in Third Ward, and mixed-use development in the old Brooklyn neighborhood.

Commissioners originally approved the lease agreement for the Knights stadium in January. But the deal wasn't to be signed and executed until the county and team met nine conditions.

Seven of those have been met, but officials did not think they could satisfy the remaining two over the next couple months, said County General Manager Bobbie Shields.

The park land deal has been challenged by a local real estate attorney, Jerry Reese, who has fought plans to build the minor-league baseball stadium. His lawsuits hang have delayed the county from purchasing the park land.

Shields said the Knights have their financing lined up for the stadium, but aren't ready to close on the deal.

Shields said the proposed changes in the lease agreement show the county does "not want to hold up the Knights from moving ahead" on the stadium.

The Knights already have started some preliminary sitework on the project.

But the team hasn't had the chance to let its architect and design team evaluate the construction schedule, said Dan Rajkowski, the Knight's vice president and general manager.

He said every day is critical in the timing of the project, but "our goal is still to be in downtown Charlotte sometime in 2009."