High Point University’s president pledges to raise millions for additional downtown development
By: Eva Ellenburg
When the High Point City Council approved the proposal for a downtown baseball stadium, Dr. Nido Qubein doubted the project alone would create the desired economic impact for the city.
Like he’s done for his entire career, the High Point University president decided to do something about it—something big. He pledged to raise $38 million for additional developments around the stadium like a children’s museum, event center, educational cinema and a park.
“I recommended that we create not only a baseball stadium facility but rather that we create a destination center,” Qubein said. “A destination center meant that not only will you have people come 70 days a year to see baseball—and perhaps an equal number of days to watch other things at the stadium like concerts, etcetera—but rather we can create something that has a 365-day appeal.”
In April, High Point City Council agreed to fund the construction of a 5,000- to 7,500-seat multipurpose stadium on a site of land bordered by North Elm Street, Gatewood Avenue, North Lindsay Street and West English Road—about 11.5 acres valued at $15 million. It will be home to a minor league baseball team and will provide a venue for concerts and other events.
During the High Point Convention and Visitors Bureau annual meeting on May 17, Qubein announced his intention raise the money from private donors by Sept. 15 for the additional projects. The City of High Point will own these developments, which will be constructed near the future stadium. The funds will also cover Qubein’s efforts in leading the stadium’s naming rights and team acquisition.
“Besides just creating energy and a sense of pride, we wanted something that will create jobs—something that will have an improved economic impact on the whole area,” Qubein said.
Qubein said he envisions the event center as a venue for state association conferences and community events that host between 500 and 1,200 people. He wants the children’s museum to be an interactive, scientific experience with an educational, single-screen cinema adjacent to it. A small park with a playground would complete his vision of the developments near the stadium.
High Point is considered one of the furniture capitals of the world, but since the 1990s its textile-based economy has suffered due to foreign competition. Although the industry and the bi-annual furniture market still have a strong presence in High Point, its downtown area—full of mostly showrooms only used for the furniture market—has been stagnant in comparison to the growing northern part of the city.
High Point City Manager Greg Demko said the tax base in the core city has been decreasing since 2008, so these developments are intended to reverse that trend. He said feasibility studies were conducted to ensure the potential success for these projects.
Demko said the creation of over 750 full-time jobs is projected in the core city—near lower-income areas—over the next decade after the developments are complete. The estimated timeline for the projects is three to five years.
Taxes will not be raised to build the stadium. The debt from the land purchase and construction will be repaid through private revenue generated by the developments, as well as an increased tax base from the future properties and businesses in the area.
Demko said the stadium is a catalyst project to stimulate growth around the area in the forms of apartments, hotels, restaurants and bars. He said Qubein’s contribution will provide more catalysts for economic growth and increase the foot traffic projected to occur in the downtown area.
“When people are starting to complain about traffic versus that it’s a dead downtown, that’s when we’ll know we’re succeeding,” Demko said.
Qubein said the group of donors for the projects will only include about five to 10 philanthropists from High Point. He said he has already secured several donations, but the names of these people and their contributions will be made public at a later date. Qubein himself and HPU will be leaders in contributing to the monetary goal as well.
Neither Qubein nor the philanthropic group have personal financial stakes in the project. He said he chose to take on the task because of his love for the city and his belief in its potential.
“High Point is resilient in many ways—it has a citizenry that is engaged in many, many things, it has philanthropic spirit that’s second-to-none, and of course it has some other special assets like the furniture market, which is international, and High Point University, which has been a thriving institution,” Qubein said.
Demko said he thinks the entrepreneurial strategy that Qubein used with HPU’s expansion should be employed with the development of High Point’s downtown.
“If you look at the growth and experience of High Point University that Dr. Qubein has built in over the last decade,” Demko said, “Just mirroring that in downtown High Point and using that vision and that image and that investment and that energy will be a game changer.”
High Point resident Tim Mabe, the CEO of the High Point Convention and Visitors Bureau and a consultant to governments and boards for economic development, said he stopped questioning whether the stadium would improve High Point’s economy when Qubein pledged to donate money for more projects.
“If there was any doubt in my mind about if the stadium was going to be enough to create what we want to in our downtown, then all that was put to rest with all the other things that he added,” Mabe said.
Qubein said he has received positive responses from many High Point residents regarding the “destination center,” but he knows some don’t think it will not guarantee a better economy. However, a guarantee is not his goal.
“When people say, ‘Well I just don’t think a stadium will work’—well gosh, you know, it may not work forever,” Qubein said. “If you want a guarantee for 100 years, I’m not sure who can give you such a guarantee. So the question for me is not whether or not something is absolute, but whether or not something is good.”
Mabe said he does not agree with criticism he has heard about these projects—he thinks an improved downtown will attract millennials and increase the tax base in the downtown area, particularly regarding the property taxes.
“Now we really do have to address this just so the property values won’t continue to decline in that part of High Point,” Mabe said. “All of us here that are paying property taxes that are living in places where people want to live, we have to make up for that property tax.”
Qubein said his optimism regarding the project should not be mistaken for naivety, but rather a point of view based on reason and a belief that the city of High Point has greater economic potential.
Qubein does not think the city should try to model itself after other cities like Greensboro and Winston-Salem, but he believes it should capitalize on its own unique strengths.
“If we just focus all of our energies to create a more vibrant environment for young people and for our children for the future, then I think we can achieve something remarkable,” Qubein said. “High Point is capable of becoming the best High Point it can be without necessarily imitating any other location.”
As someone with resources to give, Qubein said he feels grateful that he can give back to the community in which he raised his four children and built up his career.
“I don’t think it’s just a responsibility—I think it’s a blessing,” Qubein said. “I think it’s a privilege, to be in a position to give of one’s time, one’s money, one’s leadership, one’s experience, one’s connections.”