The Braves are interested in moving their Class-A team from Lynchburg, Va., to Wilmington, N.C., and Wilmington officials are going to see if they can make it happen.
Wilmington’s City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to begin negotiations with the Braves and Mandalay Baseball Properties, and to explore the level of public support, potential cost and funding for a ballpark necessary to bring the team to the coastal city.
Braves general manager Frank Wren and former manager Bobby Cox attended Tuesday’s meeting in Wilmington. The Wilmington Star-News reported there was a packed house in the council chambers, including many fans in Braves attire.
Cox also traveled to Wilmington in November to discuss the possibility of bringing a Braves affiliate to the city.
The city council agreed Tuesday to enter a six-month negotiation period with the Braves and Mandalay through July 31, with an option to extend if necessary. To entice the city to build a ballpark – estimated cost, at least $35 million — the Braves and Mandalay have offered a 20-year lease guarantee. The Braves and Mandalay would co-own the team.
The Braves’ Lynchburg affiliate is an independently owned team in the advanced Class-A Carolina League. The Braves switched from Myrtle Beach, S.C. to Lynchburg after the 2010 season, when Myrtle Beach Pelicans president Chuck Greenberg’s group purchased the Texas Rangers and switched the Pelicans to the Rangers organization.
The Braves signed a four-year deal with Lynchburg that runs through the 2014 season, so there is presumably some urgency for Wilmington to try to get a plan in place for a new ballpark in time for the 2015 season.
Mandalay owns or at least consults with six minor league teams in various organizations.
The Braves own all of their own affiliates other than Lynchburg, and have recently built ballparks in place at all of their other full-season affiliates at low Class-A Rome, Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett.
While there were plenty of hopeful Braves fans at Tuesday’s council meeting, the Wilmington Star-News also reported there were some sign-carrying protestors, expressing opposition to public funding for a ballpark.
The paper quoted one councilwoman who voted for the six-month exploratory negotiation period but said that it would be wrong for taxpayers to pay increased rates to fund a new ballpark.