The City of Raleigh is currently in the habit of creating events on Fayetteville St. to attract visitors to downtown. With recent success expanding the Museum of Natural Sciences, it is time to think big about permanent, family-friendly entertainment options downtown to coexist with the existing museums and growing number of restaurants and bars. As an Oakwood resident and City Market-located business owner, I hear from suburban friends quite often about the lack of consistent family activities downtown. Once they’ve done the museums, or Pullen Park, or stopped by one of the various Fayetteville Street events, that about does it for a month or two.
And yet they consistently take their family to Durham for a Bulls baseball game.
The City of Raleigh needs to return professional baseball to downtown. The following is an excerpt from a memo provided to the City. I won’t focus as much on details about “where” as much as “why.” We’ll cover the where in a follow-up blog.
Why professional baseball?
Comparably, the reality of a professional soccer stadium for MLS is both unlikely (Cary’s stadium is newly upgraded), and not economically viable (home games take place only 10-15 times per season, which results in an under-utilized use of downtown space).
Every major city in North Carolina has a professional baseball team, except the capital! It’s affordable entertainment. It takes place 45-60+ days/nights a year and provides family-friendly entertainment. It also provides diversity for families with limited income. No matter how much we love the Carolina Hurricanes, two things that professional hockey is not: not very diverse, nor very affordable.
Professional baseball downtown is an absolute shoe-in success. The Mudcats have struggled in far-away Zebulon for most of their existence. Attendance fluctuates drastically between weeknights and weekends, as does the team’s various major league affiliations. The lack of development around Five County Stadium plagues the visitor experience. Promised development simply hasn’t materialized after 20+ years.
And why would it? Movement is toward the core of our cities.
How do we make professional baseball happen?
The first thing everybody does is think negative. “Raleigh can’t have baseball because of the 30-mile rule.” That’s this City’s old wives tale. Sure, professional baseball has an anti-trust regulation, but there’s no such thing as a “30-mile rule.” How else does Washington D.C. have a team near Baltimore? Winston-Salem and Greensboro. St. Paul and Minneapolis, and on down the line. Getting into the specifics of the “deal” Durham has with Minor League Baseball for this region is fit for another post. Yet, the bottom line is this:
- The Wake County MSA is now separated from Durham-Orange MSA (they were not in 1987 when the handshake agreement between Durham and Minor League Baseball (MiLB) was reached).
- Wake County is now 4 times larger than it was in 1987. And is expected to continue to grow rapidly.
- The president of MiLB knows the time will come when cities like Raleigh will request a franchise. In fact, he said so in an interview with UNC students researching the subject in 2012.
- Alternatively, Minor League Baseball is NOT the only option. In fact, theAmerican Association of Independent Baseball and Atlantic League of Professional Baseball are both set up for this very reason in mid-size cities.
- Why not aim high, and attract Major League Baseball? Most people don’t realize that, according to the recent census, Raleigh has a greater population than the following major league cities: Miami, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Minneapolis, St. Louis, among others. Remember, there are no Major League Baseball teams playing from Washington, D.C. to Atlanta. Arguably the hottest corridor for development in the U.S. Visitors from across the Carolinas, Tennessee and Southern Virginia would be attracted to this area with a major league option. Comparable markets of Charlotte, Richmond, and Columbia are not likely since they’ve recently invested in upgrading their minor league facilities.
Data show Raleigh residents would be supportive
- In a 2010 study by students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which was expanded in 2012, research findings show that Raleigh residents overwhelmingly support the idea of a baseball stadium downtown.
- The 2010 survey shows 66% of Raleigh residents have been to a Durham Bulls baseball game. Whereas, only 33% of Raleigh residents have been to a Carolina Mudcats game… in our own Wake County!
- In the 2012 follow-up survey of more than 325 Raleigh residents: A whopping 96% responded in the affirmative that “professional baseball in downtown Raleigh would positively impact the city.”
- A whopping 92% would support Major League Baseball in downtown Raleigh.
- If MLB weren’t an option, an amazing 82% would support Minor League Baseball in downtown Raleigh. The only drawbacks mentioned were concerns about parking and the resulting impact on the Mudcats. NOTE: this question did not offer a scenario in which the Mudcats would move downtown, only an unaided question asking whether residents would support any team in a downtown stadium.
The public-private ramifications of this subject certainly impact one of Raleigh’s most beloved entrepreneurs and philanthropists. However, the fact remains, Raleigh residents’ discretionary income is going to Durham County. In fact, 44% of Durham Bulls attendees last year came from Wake County.
We are sending Raleigh taxpayer dollars to Durham. Conversely, how does it feel now that DPAC is wildly successful in Durham? A terrific venue in a terrific city. Though, did anyone in Durham show concern for the impact this facility would have on Raleigh? I should know, as my firm was part of the team that laid the groundwork for DPAC’s success, helping to launch that venue.
As the region continues its explosive growth, the “Triangle” mentality has its limits when it comes to family entertainment. It is simply not feasible to drive to Durham for a weekday evening ballgame without leaving work at 3 p.m. to make it on time and account for traffic.
Frankly, this issue should be at the top of the City’s priority consideration. Professional baseball downtown is an economic development engine. It can stimulate a blighted area south of downtown and provide jobs for local residents of that community. Baseball is a family-friendly activity that promotes diversity. And it keeps Raleigh residents’ spending… in Raleigh.
Give it some thought and let me know what you think.