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Baseball in Twin City

Winston-Salem and the Dash together for the long haul

 brittany@yesweekly.com

To enter into a 25-year commitment, the two parties involved must be willing, able and ready.

There has to be a mutual respect and understanding for each other’s wants and needs. Give-and-take is not an option, it is a necessity. Twenty-five years is a long time to stay committed to one another, but if the foundation is solid, the two parties are capable of success.

The City of Winston-Salem and the Winston-Salem Dash are willing, ready and able to make a 25-year commitment to one another, and they’re now in the process of laying down a permanent foundation. It was announced early last week that the City and the team have mutually agreed upon a new lease agreement that will make the Chicago White Sox the majority owner of their Single-A Advanced team. The Dash is currently owned by four local investors. These investors will still maintain partial ownership of the team, while the Chicago White Sox will obtain majority ownership. Once a Major League team becomes owner of their minor league affiliates, there is no chance that a minor league affiliate of another team can play here.

Lisa Saunders, Winston-Salem CFO, presented an overview of the new agreement to the City Council during a special meeting on Monday.

Saunders explained that there are two leases: The stadium and improvements lease and the new lease for the stadium. The new leases will guarantee that the lease payments made from the Dash to the City will cover the debt that the City has outstanding on the stadium.

Under the original construction lease, the Dash was secured for a $15 million loan. Under the new agreement, the ownership has agreed to pay down the existing debt to $13 million. The City will refinance the loan at $13 million instead of the original $15 million. The Dash will pay the City $1.8 million annually for the next 25 years, and that means that the City has potential to profit an extra $4 million over the length of the agreement.

Lee Garrity, City Manager, explained the deal in simple terms, saying that “the City owns the stadium, and the owners own the team.”

The new lease agreement also has a letter of credit to guarantee the payments to the City. This means that the Dash have secured assets set aside equaling the annual $1.8 million payment. If at any point those funds should be used, it is up to the ownership group to replenish the funds. In the new agreement, it is mentioned that once the White Sox become majority owners, another Major League ball team cannot come into Winston-Salem.

“It’s really an ideal situation for everyone involved,” Saunders says, “It puts the City in a better position to control the finances. We will have a lease payment to offset the debt payment.” Saunders also pointed out that this agreement will not cost the taxpayers any money.

“It is a win-win,” Saunders says. Geoff Lassiter, President of the Winston-Salem Dash, echoes Saunders’ excitement about the new agreement.

“It is almost unheard to have a ballpark that is not subsidized, in any way, by taxpayer dollars,” Lassiter says.

The partnership between the Dash and the City was born in 2008, and the construction loan for the stadium was secured in 2009. Given the nation’s economic circumstances at that time, both parties understood that the original construction loan would be a temporary agreement, and it would be revisited once the lenders were on stable ground. It was a risky time to depend on lenders, but the City decided to proceed with building the stadium.

W-S DASH: ‘The two parties involved must be willing, able and ready.’ “Winston-Salem progressively finds our own niche,” says Lassiter, “We went from the tobacco industry, to the banking industry, to the research health industry, and now we’re doing well in the entertainment industry. The City constantly finds new ways to reinvent itself.”

Lassiter, born and raised in Winston- Salem, values the community spirit, and he is proud of the city’s progress and the contributions that the Dash has made.

“The eight acres of land that the stadium is on was once an area filled with crime and poverty,” Lassiter explains, “Now, when people drive down 40 and see the ‘front door’ of Winston-Salem, they see a beautiful ballpark instead of dilapidated houses.”

Since it opened in 2010, more than 1.2 million people have walked through the gates of BB&T Ballpark. The Dash also boast the best attendance average in Single-A Advanced League with 4,500 people per game. In a state like North Carolina, a place that lives for college basketball, Lassiter says that baseball is doing just fine.

“There is that void in the summer, in between college basketball and college football,” Lassiter says, “It’s nice to see it filled with something like this. People really do enjoy it.”

Lassiter said that the Winston-Salem Dash are responsible for drawing almost 300,000 people to the City on an annual basis, and he points out that this type of foot traffic is not only good for the team, but it is also good for the City.

“These people might come for the ballgame, but they will have to eat in our City’s restaurants, and they’ll have to stay in the City’s hotels,” Lassiter says, “so they are huge contributors to our community.”

The staff at the Winston-Salem Dash understands that since the community does a good job supporting them, they have to do what they can to reciprocate the support. BB&T Ballpark plays host to 70 baseball games during the course of a season. During the offseason, the stadium is sometimes used for other events in the community. BB&T Ballpark has held wedding receptions, college and high school baseball, high school proms and graduations. Lassiter believes that hosting events like this are important because it builds a bond between the Dash and the community.

“We host 247 events per year, and only 70 of them are baseball games,” Lassiter says, “so we believe the in the importance of community.”

The Dash is also responsible for helping the City’s economy by providing 1,000 part-time workers with seasonal positions, and they maintain a regular staff of 30 full-time workers.

The team’s season begins on Thursday, April 3 at BB&T Ballpark. The new lease agreements are still in the early stages, but on Monday the City Council did approve the motion to hear more about this initiative, and they will hear more details at the April 7 council meeting. The agreement will then have to go through a public hearing, and it will have to be voted on by the City Council. The preliminary schedule states that, if everything goes well, the agreement could be done by June.

“The Chicago White Sox really could not have picked a better place to have a ball club,” Lassiter says, “they know that, and that is why they want to keep Winston-Salem in their future for 25 years.” !

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