Wednesday, May 22, 2024

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Council hikes budget for ballpark event venue to $2.6M


Burlington’s city council has decided to go deep, in a manner of speaking, in order to cover a steep rise in the cost of a proposed entertainment venue at the city’s athletic stadium.

Earlier this week, the council gave the city’s municipal staff the go-ahead to spend up to $2.6 million on this project – effectively smashing the $1.95 million ceiling that its members had set less than a month earlier when they hired a contractor to develop the new venue on the stadium’s grounds.

The members of the council ultimately reached this consensus after reviewing several competing proposals for this facility during their latest monthly work session on Monday.

During that evening’s proceedings, Nolan Kirkman, the city’s assistant manager over development services, laid out a conceptual plan for the venue that he and his colleagues had sketched in collaboration with the project’s Raleigh-based contractor, Bobbitt Construction.

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Kirkman noted that this plan also contained input from the Burlington Sock Puppets – the stadium’s resident ball club which is part of the independent Appalachian Baseball League.
Kirkman went on to describe the particulars of this plan, which he acknowledged would be quite a change for the city-owned stadium.

“The project goal…is to enhance the social experience for people at the ballpark and to create more opportunities for events outside the season,” he reminded the council. “So, we’re looking at a shaded structure, a fully functional kitchen, restrooms, and multiple levels where you can socialize.”

Kirkman also alluded to a bar that would operate within the venue as well as a raised platform that would literally jut out into the ballpark in order to “enhance the immersive experience” for visitors. This latter feature received a resounding endorsement from Anderson Rathbun, the Sock Puppets’ general manager, who insisted that the projecting platform is unlikely to interfere with the viewing pleasure of fans when games are in progress.

Burlington assistant city manager Nolan Kirkman

“Most of the people who come to our games don’t care about wins or losses. To be frank, they care about having a good time.” – Nolan Kirkman, Burlington assistant manager for development services


“Most of the people who come to our games don’t care about wins or losses,” he explained. “To be frank, they care about having a good time.”

Meanwhile, the assistant city manager mentioned a number of aesthetic touches, ranging from decorative fencing and brickwork to name-brand furniture and exterior signage, which he said were incorporated into the plan in deference to the city staff’s overall commitment to quality.

Kirkman went on to acknowledge that the plan which he had just pitched to the council would cost the city some $2.6 million to consummate. Since this figure represented an increase of roughly 33 percent over the project’s original budget, Kirkman also presented two other competing proposals in the event that the council wanted to keep its costs somewhere in the ballpark of the previously agreed-upon sum.

The assistant manager’s first alternative dispensed with many of the project’s aesthetic flourishes in order to bring the price down to $2.3 million. He also presented an even more streamlined proposal that did away with the raised platform and reduced the in-house kitchen to a mere shell and, in the process, managed to bring down the project’s estimated cost to $2 million.

The council, for its money, seemed perfectly content to pursue the $2.6 million proposal even after Kirkman had presented the more economical options during the work session.

“Seeing that our whole community will be using it, I say that we go for the full scope,” declared councilman Ronnie Wall.

“I am an advocate of doing it right,” agreed Burlington’s mayor Jim Butler.

Harold Owen, Burlington’s mayor pro tem, suggested that the city should explore corporate sponsorships in order to offset a portion of this project’s expense. But he, like Butler and Wall, ultimately threw his support behind the pricier option.

“Looking at $1.9[5 million proposal] compared to the $2.6 [million], you lose the concept of what you’re doing,” Owen declared.

In the end, the council instructed Kirkman to proceed with the $2.6 million concept, notwithstanding the project’s previously imposed cap of $1.95 million.

Meanwhile, Kirkman outlined an admittedly “aggressive” schedule for the project’s completion, which calls for construction to take place over the spring and summer of 2023.

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