CATEGORY: ALD Tupelo City Council

AUTHOR: MOULDE

HED:Council votes intent to sell land to baseball team

By Philip Moulden

Daily Journal

Tupelo's City Council agreed Tuesday to sell a professional baseball team eight acres of land in Veterans Memorial Park if both sides can agree on a price.

Under the "letter of intent" issued to Northeast Mississippi Sports and Promotions, ownership of the land and any improvements on it would revert to the city after 20 years.

The sales agreement replaces a low-cost lease proposal the city and baseball team were negotiating for use of the land.

Officials said the baseball club needs a deed as security interest to obtain a loan to build a proposed 3,000-seat stadium on the property.

If the baseball team folds during the next 20 years, the city would have the option to buy back the land and the stadium from the mortgage holder.

But in any event, the city would get back the land and structures on it without cost after 20 years, city attorney Guy Mitchell said.

"They (the club) could sell the stadium, the lending institution could sell the stadium ... regardless after 20 years it would come back to the city of Tupelo," he said. "I think it's a win-win situation for the ball club ... and the city."

"It's a much better deal than I thought we would come up with ...," agreed Ward 3 Councilman Smith Heavner, who said he had pronounced the lease prospects "dead" just days before.

The baseball club holds a franchise from the Big South League of Professional Baseball Clubs Inc. dubbed the Tupelo Tornado. A stadium must be ready for the Tornado's home opener in early June, said Mike Begley, general manager of the club.

But whether the Tornado, or the Big South League, survives depends on whether the city and baseball club can agree on the price of the property.

"If Tupelo doesn't exist, the league doesn't exist (this year)," Begley said of the current four-team operation. The Big South League is expected to pick up at least six more teams by next year, he said.

Ward 5 Councilman Tommy Doty noted the city paid more than $7,500 an acre for the land when it purchased about 41 acres in 1968. Council members, who voted 8-0 for the intent sales resolution, instructed Mitchell to obtain current appraisals on the land.

The stadium site lies just east of Veterans Boulevard about midway between the northern and southern borders of the developing park.

The city and club must also adopt an operating agreement to control use of the property and the stadium. The agreement will closely follow terms of land use provided in a proposed lease agreement made public two weeks ago, officials said.

Officials noted that no alcohol beverage sales would permitted at the stadium without additional approval the council. That approval would require amending the city's beer ordinance, Mitchell said.

The proposed sales agreement was spelled out for council members at a special session two hours before the council's regular meeting.

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