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Team-less Charlotte Not About to Give Up
Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A marketing agency says major league baseball can work in Charlotte. One of the city's leading executives says a $200 million stadium can be built downtown with no new taxes.

What no one is saying is where they will get a team that would play in such a facility.

A group calling itself the Charlotte Regional Baseball Partnership held a public forum Monday night to discuss its plans for adding baseball to a city that in the past decade has landed NBA and NFL expansion franchises.

The forum came 13 days after voters in the Winston-Salem, Greensboro and High Point areas solidly rejected a plan to raise $140 million in new taxes and use it for a proposed $210 million baseball stadium in Kernersville.

Don Beaver wanted to buy the Minnesota Twins from Carl Pohlad and move the team to Kernersville, but the purchase agreement the two men signed last October expired March 31, and it has not been renewed.

Neither Beaver nor Pohlad was among the 100 or so people at the Charlotte forum, but Beaver did send an assistant, Tim Newman. While saying he was impressed with the partnership's presentation, Newman nonetheless hedged when asked if Beaver's group would definitely seek another purchase agreement with Pohlad and try to bring the Twins to Charlotte.

``We are still in discussions with them,'' Newman said.

The Charlotte partnership said its goal is to build a $200 million stadium downtown and construct it largely with private funds.

Partnership chairman Johnny Harris, one of the region's most successful real estate developers, said he has already consulted with several Charlotte bankers about helping to arrange financing for a stadium. Based on those conversations, Harris said, he is confident the concept can become a reality.

``No new taxes would be envisioned in any way, shape or form for this,'' Harris said.

Harris said the partnership hoped to be able to secure a deal similar to that struck by the Carolina Panthers, who got about $60 million in local and state assistance to build the NFL team's stadium in downtown Charlotte.

But based on the Kernersville stadium referendum and a recent poll showing Charlotte voters also oppose spending tax dollars for stadiums, Harris said the partnership knows it must get the bulk of its money from the private sector.

``We're not stupid,'' he said. ``We understand. We saw the tea leaves.''

The partnership presented information compiled by Muhleman Marketing Inc., a sports marketing agency that conducted similar studies before the city landed the Panthers and the Charlotte Hornets.

Muhleman said its findings were based on about 600 interviews conducted in and around Charlotte in recent weeks. About 200 of those interviews were with businesses, and the rest were private citizens.

Muhleman said it found evidence that the area could provide ``mid-level support'' _ about 2 million fans per year _ for major league baseball.

Among Muhleman's findings were that just 18 percent of the individuals and 11 percent of the businesses contacted listed baseball as their top choice for professional sports.

While 34 percent of the individuals said they would buy season tickets for a baseball team located in downtown Charlotte, 73 percent of the businesses said they would.