March 16, 2012By Jamaal E. O'Neal
A public relations firm is joining a local effort to bring a minor league baseball team to Wilmington.
Richard W. Neumann, president of Mandalay Baseball Development, has confirmed that Capstrat — a large public relations and marketing firm in Raleigh — is helping Mandalay, the Atlanta Braves, and the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce craft a strategic campaign to bring a Braves franchise and stadium to the Port City.
Mandalay, the Braves and the Wilmington Chamber each contributed an undisclosed amount of money to hire the firm, Neumann said.
“We’re going to have a relationship with Capstrat,” said Connie Majure-Rhett, president and CEO of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, adding that the three parties are currently finalizing a contract for the firm.
Capstrat is one of the largest public relations firms in the South, and has completed a number of initiatives and campaigns for clients, including North Carolina Ports, UNC-Chapel Hill and the North Carolina Economic Developers Association. Majure-Rhett said that the Wilmington Chamber hired the firm in 2006 to promote a parks bond issue.
Neumann said hiring the public relations firm is “standard operating procedure” as the organization works to bring a franchise to a prospective city.
Last month, the Wilmington City Council initiated a memorandum of understanding with Mandalay Baseball and the Atlanta Braves organization.
The memorandum ends July 31 with an option for the city and the two baseball organizations to extend it.
Council members also approved spending up to $132,500 to complete a feasibility study to help research locations and costs associated with building a stadium, and bringing a baseball team to Wilmington.
A preliminary plan calls for the city to build a $35 million to $40 million, 6,000-seat stadium to be used year-round as a multi-purpose facility if the Atlanta Braves and Mandalay Baseball organizations bring a minor league team and oversees the stadium’s operations.
Meanwhile, city officials have gotten a taste of what may result for the Port City if a baseball stadium and team locate in Wilmington.
Upon the invitation of Durham Mayor Bill Bell, city officials traveled Friday to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park to hear about the city’s experience in building a minor league baseball stadium and the economic development that the stadium generated. The Wilmington delegation toured of the facility as well as the American Tobacco District, which is across the street from the stadium.
Capstrat worked with Durham city officials to organize the event.
Wilmington city leaders questioned Mayor Bell about financing for the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. He responded that the City of Durham paid for the facility but did not discuss details. The stadium was built in 1995 and expanded three years later to 10,000 seats.
Bell also talked about ballpark-related economic development, stressing the critical importance of having consistent public and private funding, and a strong public-private partnership, to make economic development initiatives successful.