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June 2007
How in the World Did This Happen?
By John Paul Galles

      Now I have seen many convoluted, complex, wild-eyed, crazy, lame-brain schemes put together for public consumption in my lifetime, but I thought the one structured by Michael Smith of Charlotte Center City Partners proposing a baseball stadium for Charlotte took the cake. How in world he thought he could put together a complicated land swap deal that would include Mecklenburg County, City of Charlotte, Wachovia Bank, MassMutual, Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, Spirit Square, Charlotte Knights and local developers – and deliver a baseball stadium, urban parks and affordable housing at the same time – is beyond any rational pattern of human thought.

      Having launched this incredible scheme a little over a year ago, Smith put together a surprisingly convincing and logical presentation of a very intricate and involved puzzle of transactions and set about educating people to the value of this proposal. Smith jump started the discussion of bringing the Charlotte Knights into uptown Charlotte. Sensing substantial support for that objective, he listened intently to learn about ambitions and objectives within the center city. He discovered that, while not everyone supported the baseball stadium idea by itself, nearly all related parties wanted at least one or more of the proposed

projects, and support for the deal began to grow.

      Smith and his board members, including Jim Dulin, Bobby Drakeford, Jim Palermo and Harvey Gantt, were intimate with the details and the conversations that unfolded in the course of promoting their proposal. Don Beaver and Dan Rajkowski from the Charlotte Knights were intent on making this package work. Additional support came from County Commissioners, City Council members, CMS officials, developers and corporate leaders. Professional staff support from Harry Jones and Bobby Shields from the county well as Pam Syfert and Curt Walton from the city and Guy Chamberlin from CMS contributed incredible insights and creative concepts.

     Over the past year, the pieces of this puzzle have gradually come together. Mecklenburg county officials led the way. CMS gives up their administrative building and its property adjacent Marshall Park. In return, CMS gets $13.8 million and the office space on the fifth floor of the government center building rent-free. The City of Charlotte gives up its portion of Marshall Park to the county and gets the county’s share or ownership of the future Wachovia Cultural Arts Center. It also has an involvement in housing in the Brooklyn Village. Mecklenburg County gives up Marshall Park and the CMS headquarters in exchange for properties. It also gets land for an urban park. The Charlotte Knights contribute a $35 million stadium and an additional $8 million for public utilities and get low-rent, county-owned land for their stadium.

     With the Charlotte City Council vote in favor of the swap on May 14th, it appears that nearly all the pieces have fallen into place. The county must still negotiate its contracts with private developers for the completed projects to come together. The only remaining issue is a law suit from Jerry Reese, a Charlotte lawyer, to block the transfer of the school administration building to the county.

     Amazingly enough, Smith’s hair has not turned gray nor has he become bald in the process of these discussions. He really would make a great James Bond in one of the 007 movies. Cool, calm and collected, Smith is the epitome of an insightful leader with his energies focused on the objectives while still attending to every detail along the way.

We will very likely see a baseball stadium built in the center city by 2010 at the latest. Along with the NASCAR Hall of Fame also opening in 2010, we will have made Charlotte an even more attractive destination for visitors and convention goers as well as for people seeking a new community with growing economy.

     Thomas Jefferson once said, “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more luck I have.” Charlotte is not lucky; Charlotte has great leaders who are working harder than ever. Bravo!

John Paul Galles is the publisher of Greater Charlotte Biz.
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