HIGH POINT — In May, High Point University President Nido Qubein promised he could raise $38 million by Sept. 15 to improve four square blocks downtown.
On Wednesday — nine days ahead of schedule — Qubein announced to a packed house in a HPU auditorium that the project’s backers had raised $50 million.
Qubein also told the crowd that the project — anchored by a baseball stadium and surrounded by other entertainment options — would one day see an apartment complex and a hotel built nearby.
“We delivered,” Qubein said, “and then some.”
Qubein is leading a team of High Point civic and governmental leaders who are working to revitalize a decaying industrial area near the city’s center. The property sits a block west of North Main Street and roughly halfway between High Point Regional Hospital and the city’s main concentration of furniture showrooms.
The potential $140 million project has two parts — one public and one private.
The city of High Point has pledged $15 million to buy 11.5 acres to house a stadium and other amenities. (The city already has bought most of the land.) The city also plans to borrow another $30 million to build a stadium.
The $50 million raised by Qubein’s group would be used to build a park, children’s museum and event center next to the stadium. The goal is to create an entertainment complex that would draw residents of High Point and other nearby cities and towns as well as developers who might build apartments, restaurants and retail spaces.
To an audience of about 900 at the university’s Hayworth Fine Arts Center, Qubein and others made several announcements Wednesday about the project:
- BB&T Corp., the Winston-Salem bank, will buy naming rights to the proposed baseball stadium. Qubein is a member of the bank’s board of directors.
- The stadium will have a baseball tenant. Frank Boulton, principal owner of the Bridgeport (Conn.) Bluefish, said he will move the team to High Point. He envisions that the team will start play here in the spring of 2019 if the stadium is built by then. The Bluefish are members of the Atlantic League, an eight-team professional baseball league that sends players to the major leagues but isn’t affiliated with Major League Baseball.Blue Ridge Companies, a High Point developer, said it will build at least 200 new apartment units near the project site.The Carroll Companies, a Greensboro developer, said it will build a hotel near the project site. Company founder Roy Carroll told the News & Record before Wednesday’s event at HPU that he’s talking with hotel companies about a project that will have about 100 rooms.
- Qubein said 11 private donors are putting up the $50 million toward the project. The only donor Qubein named Wednesday was High Point University, which he has led since 2005. Qubein said HPU will be the largest contributor to the project but did not say how much the university plans to give.
- Qubein outlined an organizational structure for the project. Three separate nonprofit groups will handle operations of the baseball stadium and park; the events center; and the children’s museum, cinema and playground. These groups will be overseen by a five- or six-person advisory board that Qubein will chair. The High Point Community Foundation will oversee and process donor contributions.
Paul Lessard, the foundation’s president, said the project could boost the local economy and help the city attract and keep young residents.
The foundation, he added, “is honored to be a partner in what we confidently believe will be the most important endeavor of our generation.”
The project is not without its detractors. Guilford County commissioners fall somewhere between lukewarm and skeptical toward High Point’s plan to borrow $30 million to build a new ballpark.
The city wants the county to forgo any new tax revenue generated by new development in a 649-acre zone around the stadium. The city wants to use that money to repay the loan over 20 years.
The project’s boosters have said the county risks nothing because the plan guarantees that Guilford County will continue to get as much tax revenue as it already receives. If the project fails, they say High Point leaders — not county commissioners — will have to figure out how to repay the loan.
But commissioners said recently that the plan hasn’t been properly vetted by the county or the public. High Point leaders asked commissioners to approve the plan tonight. Instead, commissioners are expected to schedule a public hearing for Sept. 21.
At least six county commissioners were in the audience Wednesday, and Qubein directed large chunks of his scripted remarks to reluctant commissioners and other project naysayers.
High Point, Qubein said, has no choice but to take a bold step forward amid a citywide decline in the tax base and the deterioration of its downtown.
“High Point, North Carolina, needs a shot in the arm. We are not moving upward — do not kid yourselves,” Qubein said.
Qubein urged the audience to focus not on the baseball stadium but on a much bigger goal — energizing the whole city of High Point.
“We are one city with common interests — to attract young people to live here, to recreate our sense of collective pride and, for God’s sake, to stop the slow bleeding,” Qubein said.
“Which part of that can anyone disagree with logically and persuasively?”