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Stolen bases: The Knights and Uptown's good old boys don't play fair 

Not many people would enjoy seeing the Charlotte Knights in an Uptown stadium more than I. Baseball has long been my favorite sport, both to play and to watch live, so when local officials started looking for a stadium site a few years ago after the Knights declared their wish to move back to Charlotte, I couldn't wait for it to happen. The problem, though, is that there are so many screwy things about the current proposal for a partially government-funded Knights Stadium in Third Ward, even this lifelong baseball fan thinks it's a lousy idea.

The Charlotte Sports Commission last week unwrapped a new study by John Connaughton of UNC-Charlotte that inadvertently showcased some things that have gone wrong.

The Knights and the CSC, a sports industry lobbying group, requested and paid for the study. Its purpose, according to CSC executive director Jeff Beaver, was to show the economic benefits of the Knights and other sports teams, and, to "make the decision [for an Uptown stadium] easier." Translation: the study was designed to be paid-for propaganda for the City of Charlotte's proposed $6-to-$11 million contribution to a new stadium.

Neither the Knights, the CSC, nor Connaughton would reveal how much the UNCC professor was paid for the study. Pardon me, but that seems like something taxpayers may want to know before they take Connaughton's word and shell out more money to the Knights. (The county is already kicking in $8 million for stadium construction costs and will lease the 8-acre stadium site for $1 per year.)

Connaughton, who did not respond to our attempts to contact him, is the Uptown boosters' go-to guy when they need a study to confirm the value of whatever is currently at the top of their wish list. You may remember his last study, the one in which he said the now pitifully under-attended NASCAR Museum and Hall of Fame would support 750 new jobs and generate more than $60 million a year for the county's economy.

Now, tell me again why we should take the new study seriously?

Parts of the Connaughton study reveal the smoke-and-mirrors nature of the CSC's economic predictions for the stadium. The study, for instance, touts the annual $402 million local economic impact from sports, but as the Charlotte Observer's Steve Harrison has noted, the Knights only generate, at best, $4 million annually, which is just 1 percent of the total. The team, remember, wants between $14 million and $19 million from the city and county, plus the cheap-o lease on the land.

What's amazing is that not only do the CSC and City Councilman James "Smuggie" Mitchell think it's worthwhile to give the Knights nearly five times their annual revenue just to move here, they're downright excited about it. Obviously, they're not seeing the same Ghosts of Boondoggles Past — the NASCAR Hall, the Whitewater Center — the same way that many of their fellow Charlotteans are.

Mitchell, who chairs Council's economic development committee, showed last week that he's a willing, eager player in the Government-Visitors-Bureau-Center-City-Partners-Uptown-Businesses' good old boys network. At a meeting of his committee last Thursday, Mitchell genuflected toward the CSC and declared that the Connaughton study was the "main impetus" for weighing whether to invest in the stadium. He then asked the Knights to come back in two weeks with a formal request. Just to make his sock puppet role official, I guess.

Sometimes — no, actually, most of the time — the Uptown boosters' unalloyed arrogance is almost breathtaking. Drive by the land proposed for the Knights' stadium — land citizens originally voted to be turned into a park — and you'll see big signs touting the "Future Home of the Charlotte Knights." It's a perfect instance of the kind of institutional hubris that saddled Charlotte with the NASCAR Hall.

Which brings us to this: It's high time that the city reconsider its ongoing subsidies of Uptown. In the late 1980s, when Uptown was like a graveyard after 6 p.m., it made sense to find ways to strengthen the area. Thus, new sidewalks, venues, museums, music festivals, snazzy architecture, even a trolley, came into being, followed by more Uptown housing, restaurants, clubs, etc. No one could possibly confuse Uptown Charlotte today with the empty, dangerous ghost town of yesteryear. Which is good.

But you know what? There are other parts of the city that now need, and certainly deserve, the same kind of help — namely, the east side and west side. Here's an idea: build the big park where it was originally scheduled in Third Ward, and put the new Knights stadium where, say, Eastland Mall now sits. This fan, for one, would be more than happy to attend Knights games there.

If the good old boys really believe what the CSC study says about a stadium triggering development, then they should be just fine with helping the east side grow too. Right?

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