Baseball proposal in a dream world

Published 5:23 pm Tuesday, August 7, 2007

By Staff
It must be interesting to be the folks on the Golden LEAF board. They get to decide on who gets grants and who doesn’t.
The foundation, a nonprofit corporation that was created in 1999, is charged with distributing half of the funds coming to North Carolina as part of a settlement with cigarette companies. Through the years, it’s funded some truly laudable projects. It’s also funded some that are less-than-stellar. We wonder if $200,000 for a boat lift for the City of Kings Mountain was a wise use of money, but let’s see if it really helps generate the 640 jobs that the city there says it will. There was also $150,000 for the East Coast Drag Racing Hall of Fame Museum in Henderson.
So it was interesting to read this week that Pasquotank County has applied for $1.5 million from the foundation to help pay for a new baseball stadium. The county wants to field a team in the Coastal Plain League and says they need a $2.5 million stadium to do it.
Remember, the mission statement of Golden LEAF is pretty broad. Because it’s so vague, maybe that’s why Pasquotank felt it wouldn’t hurt to ask for the money. The foundation is charged with “helping North Carolinians make the transition from a tobacco-dependent economy through grants and investments that will positively affect the long-term economic advancement of the state.”
The fund is also supposed to give priority to tobacco-dependent and economically distressed counties.
We hope Golden LEAF grasps that Pasquotank County is neither truly tobacco-dependent nor — by popular standards — economically distressed. It isn’t considered a Tier One county, the category for the poorest of the poor in North Carolina. The other wrinkle is the project is expected to generate only 23 new jobs. Only five of those would be full-time. Job creation is one factor Golden LEAF considers.
Beaufort County is considered a Tier One county and tobacco is still grown here. Yet, Beaufort County got far less from Golden LEAF than it asked for. In defense of the foundation, Beaufort did get the most of any grants provided this year.
The Beaufort County Committee of 100 sought $3 million from Golden LEAF so Impressions Marketing — an existing company — could make much-needed upgrades to their Washington-based plant. They got $1.1 million. Not only would the expansion protect 162 jobs already here, it would allow the company to add 120 more.
It’s easy to use a crystal ball and say what jobs “might” be created by public-funded efforts. However, when you have an existing industry with 162 workers that needs help, state and local governments and the foundation should take heed.
Officials in Elizabeth City tried to make their case.
Pasquotank County already owns the land where the baseball stadium will be built, Simpson said. Golden LEAF funds will be used to cover part of the cost of the construction.
The baseball project, envisioned 12 years ago, has gained momentum in the past year. Plans are to build a multi-facility sports park, including a regulation tournament baseball stadium, on 33.5 acres of county-owned land near Elizabeth City State University.
We say if Elizabeth City officials want a ballpark, let them build it with their money. For now, the Carolina League has not even committed to bringing a new franchise to Elizabeth City.
For us, it sounds like a field of dreams.