Astros, Fayetteville Progress Toward Deal

The city of Fayetteville, N.C., and the Astros are moving closer to a deal that would place a high Class A franchise in the city.

Fayetteville’s city council voted 10-0 to accept a memorandum of understanding to build a ballpark for a franchise, the Fayetteville Observer reported Wednesday night.

The deal calls for the stadium to be completed by 2019 and includes a 30-year lease that would begin when the franchise first occupies the stadium, according to the newspaper.

“The City Council views this project as so much more than a baseball stadium—we see it as an economic development catalyst for Fayetteville,” mayor Nat Robertson told the newspaper. “As we move forward in this process, we are taking an approach that will benefit our community economically and provide our residents with excellent entertainment, retail and dining options, in addition to being able to see some world-class baseball in downtown Fayetteville.”

The MOU is non-binding but a binding agreement could be done within 45-60 days, according to the newspaper. A team could play in Fayetteville as early as next season.

The Astros are currently affiliated with the Lancaster JetHawks of the California League; the team is owned by Jake Kerr and is one of the league’s more successful franchises, unlikely to move. More likely, the Astros would purchase another franchise and move it to Fayetteville, if a final agreement is reached.

It’s expected that two Cal League franchises, High Desert and Bakersfield, would shift to the Carolina League with Fayetteville and Kinston, N.C., being their new homes.

Jason Freier of Hardball Capital, an investment and consulting firm based in Atlanta that has a stake in three minor league teams—low Class A Fort Wayne (Padres), Double-A Chattanooga (Dodgers) and low Class A Columbia (Mets)—is consulting for the city of Fayetteville on the deal.

A team could play in Fayetteville as soon as 2017, Freier said, but where it would play is a down-the-road discussion.

“In terms of where a team might play until a (new) stadium is built has not been discussed. All of the energy has been directed to the long-term solution,” he told BA last week. “Obviously, no new ballpark would be ready for next season. But the question of where the team might play is secondary.”

J.P. Riddle Stadium, which was home of the South Atlantic League franchise that played in Fayetteville from 1987-2001, remains in use, occupied by the Fayetteville SwampDogs of the summer collegiate Coastal Plain League. It likely would require a standards waiver from Minor League Baseball to serve as a temporary high Class A home, however.

According to the Observer, a new stadium could result on an annual basis to $7.2 million in economic output, $1.7 million in annual labor income and $365,000 in additional tax revenue. The Astros will pay $250,000 a year in rent to the city, with that amount rising after every fifth year for a total of more than $9 million.

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