The Atlantic League has unanimously approved Brandon Bellamy, Chief Executive Officer of Velocity Companies LLC, as the majority owner of the league’s new expansion club in Gastonia, N.C., which is set to begin play next spring.
On its own, that is significant. Finding an owner for an expansion minor league club in the midst of the current pandemic would be notable in itself. It’s been a brutal year for professional baseball teams around the country, as everyone has had to deal with a lost season and the lost revenues that go with it.
And with affiliated baseball facing the potential for contraction (MLB wants to cut from the current 160 ticket-buying minor league teams to 120), the effects of that will filter down to independent leagues like the Atlantic League as well.
But that’s not what is most notable about Bellamy’s ownership in Gastonia. Bellamy, a real estate developer who will also be developing projects around the Gastonia ballpark, is the only Black majority owner in professional baseball.
There are 30 Major League Baseball teams and another 150 Minor League Baseball teams in leagues where individual owners can own clubs. On top of that, there are more than 30 independent professional teams.
Until Monday, there was not a Black majority owner of any team. As far as Baseball America can determine, there has not been a Black majority owner of any professional baseball club since Tom Lewis owned the South Atlantic League’s Savannah Cardinals from 1986-1987.
“It’s interesting. As an African-American man who runs a commercial real estate company, I never say we’re a minority-owned real estate company. We’re a great commercial real estate company, I just happen to be African-American,” Bellamy said.
“In this instance I think it’s the same. But I will say that I think it’s awesome if people can be inspired by the idea that you can do what you put your mind to. It doesn’t matter what your circumstances are. I think it’s awesome that we have a lot of kids who are black and brown paying sports, I think that’s fantastic. But I also think it’s cool for them to see that there is the option of owning the team. That you have representation in the C-Suites, in management and you can own the team.”
“I think the consequences could be profound,” Atlantic League president Rick White said. “First we should look at African-American participation in the sport. It has steadily declined. It pales in comparison to basketball and football. We hope that this can provide a beacon to young people who wonder if they have a future in the sport.”
Bellamy’s Velocity Companies LLC is a real estate development corporation based in Maryland that has developed $500 million in projects.
There have been Black minority owners since Lewis owned the Savannah team in the mid-80s. Tim Bennett was a driving force in getting stadiums built in Pearl and Biloxi, Miss. and was a minority owner. But Bellamy is the first Black majority owner in decades.
“In the professional community, there are many people who are incredibly accomplished from all walks of life. The closer we can come to reflecting that in the ownership of our teams the better example we can set for our counterparts,” White said.
Gastonia is a city of 75,000 that is 20 miles west of downtown Charlotte. It is currently an exurb of Charlotte, but with attempts to get light rail to Charlotte and a potential widening of I-85, it could become a suburb of the city over the next 10-20 years.
Bellamy’s Velocity Companies will run the ballpark, own the team and also develop the area surrounding the ballpark, which is dubbed the FUSE District (Franklin Urban Sports and Entertainment).
“The opportunity for us to bring multi-family residential, to bring retail and to bring office (space), potentially, to go along with family-friendly fun that comes with minor league baseball is a win for everybody. I think it will be catalytic to their downtown development,” Bellamy said.
For the Atlantic League, the new ballpark in Gastonia gives the league a pair of teams in North Carolina, as Gastonia pairs with the High Point Rockers, which opened in 2019. Logistically, travel and scheduling for minor league teams work much easier when there are two teams that are close together where a traveling club can schedule back-to-back series on road trips without lengthy travel in between.
The Gastonia ballpark is designed for independent baseball with a 1,500-seat main bowl and a total capacity of 4,800 (with berms, picnic areas and other group seating providing the rest of the seating). The ballpark is expected to be one that produces offense—left field is only 305 feet down the foul line and 340 feet to the power alley with a tall fence. It will be a multi-purpose stadium that is also capable of hosting soccer and football games.
“I’m super honored to be able to partner with (Gastonia) and the Atlantic League. To think people can be inspired by the simple fact we own the team that conventionally speaking hasn’t happened, I think that is awesome,” Bellamy said. “This is America. We believe in underdog stories. We like people who persevere.
The city of Gastonia, the city council, the mayor and the city manager showed that. That’s my story too. We push through the struggle. The struggle makes you stronger. Hopefully when people see you don’t quit and that you were able to get some movement, then they get inspired by what you do . . . You want to live your life in a way that inspires other people.”