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ONLY ON 3: Winston-Salem looks to sell arenas, offers Wilmington advice on ballpark

WINSTON-SALEM, NC (WWAY) — As the City of Wilmington considers possibly using tax money to build a ballpark, another North Carolina city is looking to unload some tax-funded arenas.

“We own a large coliseum and a large football stadium/racetrack,” Winston-Salem City Manager Lee Garrity said. “Owned them for many years. They’re well used, but they lose money like almost every other facility in the country.”

Winston-Salem city leaders say the future of Joel Coliseum, home of Wake Forest basketball, and Bowman Gray Stadium, home of Winston-Salem State football, as well as stock car racing, is up in the air.

Joel Coliseum, built by city taxpayers in 1989 for $24 million, needs expensive renovations. Combined with Bowman Gray, the two arenas have an operating cost exceeding $850,000 a year.

City leaders say it might be time to cut costs and sell the facilities to the universities that use them.

“In terms of the coliseum, we probably could save in excess of $1.5 million a year by making this change,” Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines.

The Wake Forest athletic department would not tell us whether it is interested in Joel Coliseum, but Winston-Salem State says it is definitely interested in Bowman Gray.

“We were approached by them, and from a fiduciary standpoint, we are looking at it to see can we protect the community interest and still save money,” Joines said.

As Winston-Salem leaders ponder their decision, Wilmington City Council has a decision to make about an athletic complex of its own.

“You’ve just got to be careful,” Garrity said. “A downtown ballpark is a little different than a coliseum, but you just have to be very careful as you go through that analysis.”

Winston-Salem leaders say they enjoy a success story at their downtown ballpark, but also note that it was funded differently.

“I wanted to make sure that there were no taxpayer dollars that would go into it to have to subsidize it,” Joines said. “We structured it that way with a user tax on the tickets as well as well as using property taxes from the stadium itself to help pay any debt on that. Thus far it’s worked very well.”

Currently Wake Forest pays nearly $700,000 a year to rent Joel Coliseum for basketball. Winston-Salem State pays nearly $4,000 per home football game to rent Bowman Gray Stadium.

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