After nearly five months of not mentioning the downtown High Point stadium project in a meeting, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners brought the subject up out of the blue on Friday, Feb. 9, the second day of the board’s annual retreat at Morehead Foundry in downtown Greensboro.
Carlvena Foster, who represents many citizens in High Point, said she plans to take the lead in opening new talks with High Point to see what the county can do to help support the stadium now under construction. Several other county commissioners also said they want to open up the talks again.
The City of High Point has already secured state approval and raised the $35 million it needs for the new mixed-use stadium meant to help revitalize that city’s downtown. The ballpark will open for business in May 2019 if all goes well.
While the Board of Commissioners didn’t vote at the retreat to help fund the stadium to the tune of $11.2 million – what High Point city officials asked for in August of last year – the board’s discussion did suddenly breathe new life into the possibility of some sort of financial help for the project one week after Board of Commissioners Chairman Alan Branson called the city’s initial request “burnt toast.”
The county commissioners haven’t mentioned the project in a public meeting since Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017, when they voted to delay a decision for 60 to 90 days. Foster was the only commissioner who voted no on the delay. At that time, she made a motion that the commissioners give High Point everything it asked for.
Commissioner Skip Alston, who worked hard last year to get the county and High Point to agree to some sort of funding deal, brought the issue up near the very end of the board’s retreat, when the commissioners were discussing economic development efforts in Guilford County.
“I would hope that we would let High Point know that we want to work with them in some kind of way this year,” Alston said.
He said that attempt could fail but he’d like to see Guilford County at least try to work something out.
“I think we need to let them to know that, yes, we are still open to any possibilities to working with High Point on that project over there. Because if it’s good for High Point, it’s good for Guilford County. I think we really should do something to help.”
Alston also said Guilford County should do what it can to make certain that the stadium project – which is expected to bring a lot of private development in its wake – be a success.
He said High Point officials need to be willing to communicate with county officials. Alston had some advice for High Point leaders who at times last year were publicly very critical of the commissioners in the media for not giving the city what it asked for.
“You need to be willing to knock on the door,” was Alston’s advice for High Point city councilmembers – though there weren’t any in the room.
Branson pointed out that the City of High Point had many new elected leaders after the 2017 election and added that he hadn’t even had “minimal” communication with any of them. He suggested that a first step might be to get High Point and Guilford County leaders together in some sort of “meet and greet” event.
Branson also said the business leaders in that community had been more antagonistic toward the commissioners than the elected leaders.
“The business community – I won’t name any names – continues to wreak havoc over the stadium project and fire shots across the bow,” Branson said. “It’s very unfortunate – some of the conversations, and the way we have battled back and forth.”
The chairman said he’d like to see the commissioners take steps to alleviate some of the tension that’s existed between High Point and the county over the last eight months.
“I am by no means against the project,” Branson said, adding that he agreed with Alston that the relationship should be repaired. He said he believes Greensboro, High Point and Guilford County should work together to promote economic development in the area.
Ever since the city made the request to Guilford County for $11.2 million over 20 years in a work session in mid August last year – and the county commissioners had major questions about it – relations have been very strained between the two governments. High Point officials said it was a “no brainer” because of all the private dollars that were committed to follow the stadium into downtown High Point – including a new children’s museum, restaurants, an apartment complex and a hotel. However, county officials weren’t sold on High Point’s revenue projections and it didn’t help matters that there were glaring mistakes in the financial numbers High Point used to show that the value of its downtown properties was steadily declining.
Branson said one problem with the first round of talks was there was “no middle of the road.” He said High Point’s terms were basically “my way or the highway” terms
Foster made the surprise announcement at retreat that she wants herself and Commissioners Hank Henning and Alan Perdue, who also represent parts of High Point, to take the lead in the talks. She referred to the group as “The High Point Three.” That name got a laugh when she used it because it sounds like a group of people unjustly held in prison for something they didn’t do.
Henning, who was at times a vocal critic of the way High Point conducted itself while asking the county for the money, said at the retreat that he wanted the project to succeed but it was a problem in 2017 when the city presented the county with information that wasn’t properly vetted. He also said High Point officials didn’t seem to be willing to negotiate last year.
“To this day I can say I’ve never been called by a single member of [the High Point City] Council to say, ‘Can we talk?’ and, if you can’t do that, can you do something else?” Henning said. “It was, ‘We have a timeline, you’re going to give us what we want and you are going to do so on a revenue basis.”
High Point requested that Guilford County provide the funds over a 20-year period using revenue from anticipated increases in the property taxes as the land and buildings in downtown High Point increased in value.
“We were told how much we were going to do and how were going to fund it – and it was non-negotiable,” Henning said. “If anyone disagrees, speak up.”
Commissioner Justin Conrad spoke on the matter and said that it gave him pause that many in High Point are now saying they want a Board of Commissioners that supports High Point when the current board has in actuality supported that city in many ways in recent years.
He pointed out the board unanimously supported a new Family Justice Center, gives money to the furniture market every year and also has supported incentives for businesses that move to High Point.
“Did we financially support the catalyst project?” Conrad asked. “No, a lot of us have had a lot of questions – and still have a lot of questions. Do we want it to be successful? Sure, absolutely. I think this board supports High Point, I do. And I think we have proven that we support High Point.”
Branson said later that it made sense to “pour a little honey on the wound rather than rub salt into it.” He said the commissioners have a responsibility to try to establish a professional working relationship with the High Point leaders.
Foster said that the past is past, attitudes have changed, there’s a new High Point City Council and the door is still open for county help on the stadium project.