The first actual pitch may still be up to three years away, but city leaders tossed out their plan to create a spark in the center city to business leaders Tuesday morning by building a sports stadium without mentioning the word baseball.
Yes, the Gastonia Grizzlies will use the stadium for its home games in a collegiate summer league, but those pitching the creation of a Franklin Urban Sports and Entertainment District, or FUSE, say this won’t be just another ballpark like cities in Charlotte and Atlanta have built in recent years.
“When we talk about what we’re trying to create, we want the ballpark of the future,” said Jesse Cole, owner of the Gastonia Grizzlies and Savannah (Georgia) Bananas, both of which play in the Coastal Plain League. “I know we have some designers in here, some people who will potentially be working on this project and we need to think crazy. We need to think different. Playing it safe is building a downtown ballpark.”
More than 100 community and business leaders attended Good Morning Gaston, the first of several monthly breakfast meetings planned by Gaston Regional Chamber with help from Coldwell Banker Commercial MECA at the Gastonia Conference Center. This meeting was dedicated to city’s plans to revitalize a part of the city that has been on a downward slide, centered around the old Sears building now undergoing demolition.
The old Sears building had sat vacant for years before the city stepped up in October and agreed to spend almost $4 million to purchase 16 acres of property in that area to create the Fuse District. Other properties include the Trenton Mill, and old Coca-Cola bottling plant and the Budget Inn.
City leaders hope their plan for a sports and entertainment district will help link the success from the transformation at the Loray Mill to loft apartments to a recent upswing occurring downtown, while also strengthening the Highland community to the north and York Chester neighborhood to the south, said City Manager Ed Munn.
The city has committed $10 million more to build a stadium, but will also need private donations to finish the project.
“We will be going forward making sure this is a public-private partnership and we do need support from our business community,” said Kristy Crisp, the city’s business services manager.
Thoughts of building a downtown sports stadium in Gastonia may seem impossible, but Cole and city leaders say they have an even bigger vision for the area. Baseball alone – at least from a summer collegiate league – would not be enough to warrant such an investment, city leaders say.
But the stadium’s field could be a centerpiece surrounding by retail space and restaurants, kids activities and adult recreation leagues, music concerts, food truck festivals and more, city boosters of the plan say.
“This particular FUSE project, linked with what’s going on downtown and what’s going on down at Loray is going to revolutionize this city and change this city like you’ve never seen before,” Munn told the business leaders.
Cole compared the FUSE District plans to Walt Disney’s dream in Florida of creating EPCOT, which he said stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.
“It’s crazy, but that’s what will make it work,” Cole insisted.
He said the Grizzlies would sign a long-term lease with the city and that the team would make a financial commitment, although he did not say how much.
“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible,” Cole said, quoting Disney.
Questions from the business group about the project were positive. Someone asked when the Grizzlies could start playing ball in the new stadium. Cole said possibly by 2019, but more likely 2020. Another person asked the city to use contractors located within the state whenever possible. City leaders said they were encouraged by the enthusiasm by the group.
“It’s big, it’s lofty, it’s crazy,” Cole said. “But I think that’s what makes it great, that’s what makes it special.”
The Coastal Plain League’s other 14 teams — including the Bananas in Savannah, Ga., which Cole launched this year — play at traditional ballparks similar to 4,000-seat Sims Legion Park, the Grizzlies’ home since 2002. When Cole was named Grizzlies’ general manager in 2008, attendance at Sims was “about 200.” He says the added attractions helped sell out 25% of the past two 56-game seasons. Its 60,000-plus fans was the most in the CPL in 2015.
A request for quotation for architectural plans will be made after property closings are complete next month. Crisp believes construction on the field, estimated to cost $15 million and paid for with public and private money, could begin later in the year, when a second RFQ will seek developers for the mixed-use space. Kristy Crisp, Gastonia’s business services manager, says the October council vote approved about $4 million to purchase and begin demolition on four properties. One is a Budget Inn motel. A storefront that has been empty since Sears moved less than 3 miles to Eastridge Mall in the late 1970s stands on a 6-acre parcel. They’ll be razed. The others — Trenton Mill and a former Coca-Cola bottling plant that’s headquarters to contract metal-working company Fab-Tech Inc. — will be incorporated into FUSE, preserving their historic architecture. The city is helping tenants find new locations.
The former Loray Mill factory has been transformed into apartments near downtown Gastonia.
Gastonia’s downtown, like other communities tightly tied to textiles, has seen tough times. But recent developments, including a 30,000-square-foot conference center in 2011 and a smorgasbord of restaurants, have sparked a rebirth. Renovations at nearby 600,000-square-foot Loray Mill, once the world’s largest textile factory, are adding to it. [Read: “Gaston gets hot”] Atlanta-based Camden Management Partners and Palos Verdes Estates, Calif.-based JBS Ventures LLC, which lists Charlotte resident and Gastonia-based Historic Preservation Partners LLCco-founder Billy Hughes as a principal, spent about $45 million to convert a large portion of the mill to 189 apartments and 80,000 square feet of commercial space, where an athletic club is open and microbrew pub is under construction.
“It’s Gastonia’s time,” Crisp says. “We’ve seen that growth with downtown and Loray. [FUSE] is an extension of downtown.”
Joel Roberts owns an insurance agency and is co-chairman of Downtown Gastonia Merchants Association. Most members’ businesses are along Main Avenue, whose western stretch intersects FUSE. “We are excited about it,” he says. “There isn’t any opposition — that I am aware of — in our group. The more growth there is the better it is for everyone.”
In addition to diners and shoppers, he expects FUSE to add downtown traffic from sports fans and urban dwellers. “From a merchant’s perspective, regardless of the service they are providing or selling, that’s exciting.”
Introducing our amazing Office Manager, Stacey Featherston! Stacey is starting her third season with the Grizzlies after joining us in September of 2014. She is a Gaston County girl, growing up in Belmont and graduating from nearby South Point High School.
After high school, Stacey went on to graduate from UNC Greensboro in 1991 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies with a concentration in Marketing and Public Relations. After almost 20 years in the banking industry as a Personal Banker and Financial Specialist, she decided it was time for a change. She obtained her mortgage license and while working from home, she received an email from her dear friend, Teresa Rankin with the Montcross Chamber regarding a position with the Grizzlies. Teresa told Stacey that the job description required someone “fun” and she immediately thought of her! After her first meeting with the Grizzlies staff, they knew she would be a perfect fit – and the rest is Grizzlies history!
In her spare time, Stacey enjoys spending time with her family and friends. She has been married to her husband, Derek for 23 years and their hobbies include driving back and forth to Chapel Hill to visit their son, Walker who is a college freshman as well as watching their daughter, Blaine dance on the South Point High School Dance Team!
If you ask Stacey what she loves most about her job as the Grizzlies’ Office Manager, she will tell you it’s the people – both inside and outside the Grizzlies’ front office. She has affectionately been nicknamed “Team Mom” and she takes that role very seriously. Whether it is helping the team to get out invoices, sending in player contracts, working on the budget and reports, answering the phone or seeking host families for our players, she loves the fact that she is dealing with people constantly. She has had the opportunity to meet some amazing folks that she never would have met otherwise.
One of her best Grizzlies’ memories happened when a couple had driven down from Virginia to watch their grandson play the Grizzlies. After leaving the game, they realized that they had misplaced their cell phone and called the office after hours. Stacey reached out to them the next morning and they came by the ballpark to search for the phone. They spent a long time chatting and looking for the phone to no avail. Several days later, Stacey received the sweetest email from Mr. Wesley…
“We just wanted to send a note to tell you of how much we appreciated your help and how much we loved meeting you. Indeed we did find my cell phone. But, we must say that losing the phone was one of the highlights of the trip as this gave us an opportunity to meet you. If you are ever anywhere near Fredericksburg, Virginia, please know that your supper is either warm and on the table, hot off the grill, or fresh frozen in the freezer and just minutes away from fully ready. Please, come see us. You will be at home. Thanks again, God bless you, your family and all the people you love.”
If you are interested in hosting a Grizzlies player for the summer, please contact Stacey at 704-866-8622 or email her at [email protected]
The Gastonia Grizzlies would like to introduce General Manager, David McDonald. The 2017 Grizzlies season will be David’s fourth season with the team.
David McDonald is from Marathon, New York, which is approximately one hour South of Syracuse. David grew up playing soccer, basketball and baseball at Marathon High School. He went on to Cazenovia College, where he played soccer all four years. David graduated from Cazenovia College in 2014 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies and a minor in Pre-law.
David started with the Grizzlies in February of 2014. His first position with the Grizzlies was Chief Ticket Officer. After two seasons with the Grizzlies, he was named General Manager of the team. The upcoming 2017 season will be David’s second full season as General Manager. He hopes being General Manager for a second year will be as fun as his first!
David can be seen at Grizzlies games wearing an American suit. David started wearing an American outfit his first year and it was supposed to be just be for the 4th of July game, but everyone really loved it, including him. Over the past few years, the American outfit has become more professional and is now a full American suit that David wears for every game.
David’s best moment with the Grizzlies is when a gentleman pulled David aside and thanked him over and over because he got to spend time with his Mother at Grizzlies games. The gentleman has been able to grow his relationship with his Mother by coming out to the ballpark. David had the following comments on the moment, “It’s more than just baseball; it’s memory building!” What David loves most about his job is being able to interact with so many different people all of the time.
If you are interested in talking to David about the Grizzlies or Partnerships, feel free to reach out to him at [email protected]
The Gastonia Grizzlies would like to introduce the Ticket Leprechaun, Jake Brewer! Jake is entering his fourth season with the Grizzlies. Jake takes care of all the Grizzlies Members.
Jake is from Franklin, North Carolina. He attended Franklin High School where he played varsity basketball. After Franklin High School, Jake attended Western Carolina University. He graduated in 2014 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sport Management. Shortly after graduation from Western Carolina University, Jake joined the Grizzlies as an intern in the summer of 2014.
After spending the 2014 season as an intern with the Grizzlies, Jake was asked to join full time to oversee the Grizzlies Membership program. Jake immediately began building relationships with members, which is where Jake’s title the “Ticket Leprechaun” came from. A member Terry Jones once told Jake, “don’t take offense, but you could be the mascot for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.” After Jake was hired a couple months later, Jesse, the owner of the Grizzlies, had a similar thought. He said “Jake, don’t be offended- but would you dress up at our games like a Leprechaun? You kind of look like one!” Jake thought it was a great idea, and the Grizzlies are all about being fun and different- so he now has the most unique title in the world; he is the only Ticket Leprechaun!
Jake’s best Grizzlies moment was during this past summer. Jake was on the first base side talking to fans during a Grizzlies game. As Jake was talking with Grizzlies fans, a little boy was walking up the stairs with a slushy. The little boy, slipped and fell spilling his slushy. The boy started crying and ran to his parents. Jake immediately rushed across the ballpark to get the boy another Sun Drop slushy. Jake brought him back a slushy, and when he did the kid stopped crying and smiled. Everyone in the grandstand that saw what happened started clapping. Jake had the following statement on the situation, “This is a moment that stands out to me because taking care of people is what we are all about.”
Jake enjoys having moments like these happen while working for the Grizzlies, but when Jake has free time, he can be found playing in basketball and softball leagues. Jake also enjoys collecting baseball cards and memorabilia.
If you are interested in becoming a Member of the Grizzlies, feel free to contact Jake at [email protected] and he would love to take care of you!
The Gastonia Grizzlies would like to announce the addition of another awesome team member to the front office staff. Melissa Welch joins us as our Director of Marketing and Partner Services and is the newest addition to the Grizzlies’ family.
Melissa is originally from West Palm Beach, Florida. She attended Wellington High School where she played both soccer and golf competitively all four years, developing an early passion for all sports. This enthusiasm for sports led her to Auburn University in Alabama. At Auburn she was fortunate to spend two years as a Marketing intern for the Athletic Department. In 2015 Melissa officially became an Auburn alum with a Bachelor’s degree in Business with an emphasis in Sports Marketing.
After graduation, Melissa went to work for Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. She spent a year working as an intern for the Athletic Department as the Marketing and Promotions Coordinator. Knowing her internship was only to be for a year, she actively looked for another position in the Carolinas where she would be able to continue doing what she loves most – sports marketing. Melissa joined the Grizzlies as an intern for the 2016 season. After the season, she was asked to join full time to be in charge of Marketing and Partner Servicing with the Grizzlies.
Melissa’s best Grizzlies moment was as an intern this past summer. She noticed a little girl in the crowd crying after having dropped her Tony’s ice cream. She had been so excited to get it and as soon as she walked away, it fell to the ground and she was extremely upset. Melissa immediately rushed up to the little girl and walked her over to the ice cream stand and got her another ice cream cone, free of charge. As with most youngsters, her tears immediately dried up and she was all smiles and then ran off to enjoy the rest of the Grizzlies game with her friends.
Melissa had the following statement about the situation, “To see the little girl’s face light up was unbelievable! It was just a simple gesture and ended up absolutely making her day. The Grizzlies always want everyone at the ballpark to be having fun.” That was a meaningful moment to Melissa, and she knew she had found herself a new home in Gastonia as well as a new family with the Grizzlies. Melissa is so excited for what lies ahead and the future of the Grizzlies.
When Melissa does have free time she can often be found playing a round of golf or watching sports. Melissa loves cheering on her Auburn Tigers. And if you want to get her talking, ask her about her Golden Retriever, Tucker!
Melissa is committed to helping the Grizzlies be the “Best Show in Town” and growing their partnership with the City of Gastonia, as well as the many businesses that help support the team. She is also responsible for the Grizzlies marketing and social media. If you would like to talk to Melissa about Partnerships or Marketing you can reach her at [email protected]
The Gastonia Grizzlies’ front office staff is continuing to grow and we would like to take a moment to introduce you to one of our newest team members. We always pride ourselves on putting our fans first and our new Groups Coordinator, Austin Glasscox, absolutely loves this philosophy. We believe this makes him a perfect addition to the Grizzlies family!
Austin is from Mooresville, North Carolina and went to Mooresville High School, where he grew up playing sports. He graduated from Gardner-Webb University in 2015 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sports Management and a minor in Communications. Shortly after graduation, Austin joined the Grizzlies as an intern in the summer of 2015 after hearing about the Grizzlies internship program through his advisor, Dr. Gerald Gilsdorf. Our staff has been able to establish great relationships with college professors and advisors in the area and Dr. Gilsdorf was able to put Austin in contact with us to begin the internship application process.
After spending the 2015 season as an intern with the Grizzlies, Austin joined Fans First’s sister team, The Savannah Bananas in their inaugural season. With Austin joining as their Fan Development Coordinator, he was able to help The Bananas sell out 18 of their 25 games. They ranked 2nd in the nation in overall attendance and won the Coastal Plain League Championship in their first year! After the season ended, Austin made the decision to head north to Gastonia, closer to his family and where it all began so that he could help the groups in Gaston County for the 2017 Grizzlies season.
Austin has always been passionate about sports. He believes that sports and sporting events have a way of bringing people and a community together for something that is bigger than themselves. Austin’s primary focus for the Grizzlies is to work with local churches, schools, non-profits and little leagues in Gaston County and the surrounding area to bring them out to Grizzlies games and help with fundraising as well.
Austin’s best moment for the Grizzlies was when he made a little boy’s day during his intern season. Jacob came out to the ballpark to play in a softball game hosted by the Arc of Gaston County, a fantastic organization that works to support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Austin immediately had a special bond with his new friend Jacob, so he went out of his way to make sure he had the best day possible. When it came time for them to leave, Austin gave Jacob tickets to an upcoming Grizzlies game and told him he would see him soon. What Jacob didn’t realize was Austin had a surprise for him when he came back. The night of the game came and Jacob was greeted by Austin with a framed picture they had taken at the softball game! Jacob’s face immediately lit up with pure joy and happiness and Austin’s did too!
According to Austin, “The part that makes this a Fans First Moment for me is that I was able to put a smile on someone’s face as well as on my face the entire night! Our job is to bring happiness and joy to others and I think that is what we’re called to do on this earth. Jacob not only reminded me of that, but he reminded everyone at Sims Legion Park that night!”
Austin enjoys having moments like these happen while working for the Grizzlies, but on his off days Austin enjoys attending Carolina Panthers games, spending time with family, playing Sequence or video games, and going to church.
If you are a part of a group that would like to come out and experience an awesome Grizzlies show in 2017, feel free to contact him at [email protected].
For Immediate Release Contact: Melissa Welch
November 10, 2017 (704) 866-8622
Grizzlies Announce 2017 Schedule
Gastonia, NC – The Gastonia Grizzlies announced today the release of their2017 schedulefor their 16th Anniversary season. Just like last year, the Grizzlies have an alternating week by week schedule and feature doubleheaders on Tuesday games.
After the first week of the season, the schedule will rotate with a home doubleheader on Tuesday followed by a home game on Friday night. The following week will feature home games on Thursday night and Saturday night.
The only exception is three Monday games throughout the season that will be Bark in the Park Mondays. Monday games are June 12th vs. Lexington County, July 24th vs. Martinsville and August 7th vs. HPThomasville. Also, the Grizzlies will host the popular Super Splash Day game on Wednesday, June 28th with a noon start.
Other than the one special date, the Grizzlies will not be home any other Sundays or Wednesdays during the 2017 season. All games will start at 7:05, except the Tuesdays doubleheaders that will start at 6:00PM, the June 28th Super Splash game that will start at noon.
General Manager, David McDonald, had the following comments, “This is going to be YUUUUGE.”
The season opener will be Saturday, May 27th against the Savannah franchise. The Savannah team is owned by Grizzlies Owners Jesse & Emily Cole.
The Grizzlies first Fireworks game of the year is set for Saturday, June 3rd against The Savannah Bananas. Last year this game sold out a month in advance and will most likely only be available through Grizzlies memberships for this year.
The2017 Grizzlies schedulewill feature the biggest promotions on all weekend dates and some new unique weekly promotions that will be released closer to the season.
All new in 2017 are Grizzlies Memberships which feature amazing benefits for all Season Memberships and five game Memberships. Memberships are now all inclusive. Included in Memberships tickets are unlimited chicken sandwiches, hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, soda and water for each person! Membership Perks include Free Food with Grizzlies Bucks, Exclusive Meet & Greets with the Players, Restaurant Gift Cards, and Guaranteed Tickets to Fireworks games and more! For more information you can reach the Grizzlies front office at 704-866-8622 or visit www.gastoniagrizzlies.com
For a printable version of the Grizzlies schedule,click here!
The Coastal Plain League is the nation’s hottest summer collegiate baseball league. Celebrating its 21st season in 2017, the CPL features teams playing in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. The CPL has had nearly 1,300 alumni drafted and 81 of those – including 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander – make their Major League debut; while another notable alum – Russell Wilson – won Super Bowl XLVIII. For more information on the Coastal Plain League, please visit the league website at www.coastalplain.com and follow us via Twitter @CPLBaseball.
To many west Gastonia residents, the dilapidated former Sears building on Franklin Boulevard has been like a witch that years ago cast a spell of stagnancy just west of downtown.
On Tuesday, City Council members essentially shouted “Ding Dong” in committing the cursed structure to a date with a wrecking ball.
“It’s been an eyesore for quite a while,” Mayor John Bridgeman said. “But there are so many exciting things coming, I believe.”
On a broader scale, the council’s 7-0 vote opened the door to the creation of the Franklin Urban Sports and Entertainment district. Gastonia has now committed nearly $4 million to purchase 16 acres of land and demolish several buildings between Franklin Boulevard, West Main Avenue, and Hill and Clay streets. That will clear the way for construction of a separately financed, multi-use baseball stadium on about eight acres that will conceptually become a destination for athletic events, concerts, conventions and more.
Tuesday’s vote ensures that buildings on the former Sears property and the Budget Inn motel will be torn down. But while the city will also acquire the historic Trenton Mill, and the Coca-Cola bottling plant now occupied by Fab-Tec, the fate of those two more historically significant structures has yet to be decided.
Gastonia Business Services Manager Kristy Crisp said as the city moves ahead with building the stadium and shepherding commercial and residential redevelopment around it, portions of the mill and the old bottling plant might be incorporated into that plan.
“We recognize the value of some of those buildings,” she said.
Mill, bottling plant could be saved
If anyone opposes the city spending millions of tax dollars on its bold plan, they were nowhere to be found Tuesday night. City Council members heard from nine people who all supported the creation of the FUSE district.
Only one of those speakers, Gastonia native and dogged historian Timothy Ellis, offered any real caution. He said he supports the overall concept. But as someone with deep ties to the former Trenton Mill village, which he said essentially comprises the proposed FUSE district, he pleaded with city leaders to find a way to incorporate the mill and the former bottling plant into their vision.
“If you will, continue to consider everything that’s historic as being worthy of preservation,” he said. “Because there is so little of it.”
Other local residents and officials were overwhelmingly in favor of the land acquisition, including representatives from the Gaston Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Gaston Development Corp., and the Downtown Gastonia Merchants Association. People who live in the nearby community also endorsed it.
“Any renovation that makes things look new in that area would be a welcome sight,” said Marvin Glenn, 63, who said he has lived on North Pryor Street for some 35 years. “I think it’s a magnificent idea — anything to create some jobs and clean up things to look more beautiful.”
“This is just wonderful, wonderful news to us,” said Carolyn Clark, a resident of South Trenton Street, whose family owns three homes on the block. “I praise y’all for doing this. I think it will make a big difference.”
Joel Long, chairman of the Greater Gaston Development Corp., said the city’s vision will play directly into his organization’s efforts to increase the tax base, attract outside investment and improve the county’s overall future. He applauded strides the city has already taken, and said this will be a springboard to greater things.
“If our county seat does not become more vibrant, as a county we can never attain the things that we should,” he said. Much left to decide
The deals the city has struck to acquire the 16 acres come with caveats, particularly since it involves relocating businesses. The negotiated offers on the table call for the possibility of giving Fab-Tec and the Budget Inn 18 months of rent-free occupancy, to allow them time to locate into different existing buildings or properties within Gastonia. Fab-Tec would also receive $50,000 in moving expenses if the relocation occurs within the next six months.
City leaders foresee the new sports and entertainment district as a way to “fuse” Gastonia’s resurgent downtown with the recently redeveloped Loray Mill village, as well as the nearby residential York Chester Historic District. They point to the need to remove the blight that has marred that pocket of the city for more than 20 years.
The stadium itself would cost another $10 million to $15 million, and would have to be financed separately. It would be owned by the city and likely leased by the Gastonia Grizzlies, a summer collegiate baseball franchise based here. But to be financially solvent, it would also have to be used for a wide variety of other year-round events.
“For us, it has to be more than a ballpark,” City Manager Ed Munn said.
City leaders would pay for the stadium construction using limited obligation bonds, which are paid off solely based on pledged revenue. The city would pay the bonds off over 25 years using the newly acquired property as collateral. Those issues will be voted on in the coming weeks and months.
But as of Tuesday night, support for the city taking a first step in acquiring the property seemed decisive. And Crisp emphasized that the goal for much of the land in the FUSE district will be to return it to the private sector.
Jason Shoemaker, a downtown Gastonia attorney and longtime leader within the Gaston County Jaycees, the junior Chamber of Commerce, described it as a “fantastic opportunity.”
“This is the thing Gastonia needs to take itself to the next level,” he said. “I can assure you this is the type of project that will make people come to Gastonia — that will make young people who live in Belmont drive this way instead of driving to Charlotte.”
You can reach Michael Barrett at 704-869-1826 or on Twitter @GazetteMike.