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Sunday, July 5, 2020

A Bridge Too Far - in Hickory

Years ago I was treated to a few seasons of "How small time politics works in Middle America."

Seems that the theory works like this. "Don't tell me about a square peg not fitting in a round hole, cause that's what this here sledgehammer was invented for."

"OK, well what about all the damage that does? You know it's likely that the object will never work as it was intended again."

"Well, we'll worry about that when the time comes. Why are you worrying about that anyway? You just let me worry about about all of this. I've got the right people to handle the situation."

Basically politicians feel they are here to sell you Bull S*** and you are here to buy it.  They are salespeople. If they make people feel like they are a part of the process, even if they aren't, then most people will go right along with the initiative of the moment.


I was part of a group of people that tried to fix the electoral system here in Hickory. Our focus was to allow a predominantly African-American area to pick its own representative on the Hickory City Council. Hmmm... doesn't that fit in exactly with what we have been through over the past month. Doesn't it matter that people who live in a certain area have the ability to elect the person who represents them, instead of having that person selected for them. We lost and the status quo remained.

The following year, we attempted to get a few of our own elected and that turned into a circus. It wasn't a circus because of anything we did. It was  a circus, because those who were in power weren't going to give an inch. We set forth objectives for moving the town forward in a prudent and fiscally responsible manner and some of what we proposed has subsequently been implemented, but to the victor go the spoils and those in power were enabled to take the next step in their agenda.

The next year, we got the $40 million bond referendum. Personally, I pretty much supported the idea of the business park and I didn't have a problem with the beautification projects, but I thought it all should have been done piecemeal, instead of with the elaborate scheme that they came up with. Now, we are 6 years down the road and this isn't the game changer that they claimed it to be. The economy around here improved because the National economy improved, because there was a renewed emphasis on manufacturing and Tada, we are a manufacturing area.


So there is your background of what led up to what we have experienced over the past 5+ years. I haven't written much, because my life is a priority to me and I have been trying to weather the storm of my middle age. Besides, there really hasn't been a whole lot of government action besides the slow motion implementation of the Bond Referendum that was passed 5 years and 8 months ago. We are barely into Phase 1 of the Infrastructure build out and at the rate we are going it will be 20 years before these projects are done.

Deal is that I have a track record of credibility, because I can see trends. I'm certainly not always right, but I'm usually in the Ballpark.

Speaking of Ballparks. A few weeks ago, I read where the City of Hickory swapped land and paid money for property that belonged to MDI.   Hickory City Council to consider $1.4 million land swap with MDI - Hickory Daily Record - Kevin Griffin -  June 16, 2020

We heard mention of the city's desire to build a bridge from the proposed Riverwalk across Highway 321  at several vignettes back in 2014 administered by their Boost Hickory group, which was basically created by our Mayor of that time. I've still got videos and recordings of those proceedings. Some Boost Hickory Spokespeople speculated that this property, mostly located in Burke County, was going to become Hickory's own version of Birkdale Village -- you know that swanky area in North Charlotte (Huntersville) with those Million Dollar residences, gourmet restaurants, dazzling spas, and elegant boutiques.

What we do know at this point in time, is that the proposed pedestrian bridge across Highway 321 is supposed to lead people to the LP Frans (Hickory Crawdad) Baseball Stadium. Here are a few inputs I would like everyone to take into consideration. These inputs are public knowledge for anyone to see. This isn't me trying to be the Gadfly. This is an exercise in Critical Thinking. The Critical Thinking process is necessary to make the best decisions when multiple variables come into play within complex and chaotic parameters.


1) The Highway 321 thoroughfare project leading north through and from Hickory has been put on hold, because the NCDOT is out of money and the State of North Carolina has put out a lot of money for the Coronavirus Pandemic and State Revenues are very unstable at this time. -

2) Cities warn of infrastructure spending cuts and more layoffs as coronavirus leaves holes in budgets - CNBC - June 23 2020 - Noah Higgins-Dunn - More than U.S. 700 cities plan to delay or cancel infrastructure projects after their responses to the coronavirus outbreak left budgets with unplugged holes, according to a National League of Cities survey released Tuesday.

3) Wall Street Risk Analysts Rise in the Muni Bond Market - Bloomberg - Amanda Albright - June 9, 2020 - The $3.9 trillion state and local government debt market, typically the safest of havens, has suddenly become one where assessing risk matters again, thanks to the economic wreckage wrought by the pandemic.

And the biggest Kicker of them all...

4) The Hickory Crawdads are no longer locally owned - The Crawdads are owned by the parent baseball club "The Texas Rangers" - Following the 2017 season, the Rangers purchased the team from Don Beaver. The Crawdads are in the lowest tier of Minor League Baseball - the Class A South Atlantic League. The Crawdads are also located in one of the smallest markets in Minor League Baseball. Within the Sally League, The Crawdads compete against cities like Greensboro, Asheville,  Charleston, and Columbia, South Carolina. All of those are cities with populations of over 100,000. Not only that, but there is the travel expense and distance associated with minor league baseball. These professional baseball players are traveling 400 miles to Hagerstown, Maryland, 500 miles to Salisbury, Maryland and 600 miles to Lakewood, New Jersey. Mind you that road trips are coordinated, but they are doing this by bus.

You might think I am fishing here, but here is what the Commissioner of Baseball Rob Manfred had to say about Minor League Baseball contraction in the face of economics. This was from last November before the Coronavirus Pandemic took control of the National Economic Outlook.

Here is a Fox News and Sports article on the subject from 3 days ago:

Minor League Baseball teams face uncertain future over canceled season - The league's future was murky even before the COVID-19 pandemic - Fox News - Ryan Gaydos - July 1, 2020 - ...According to Baseball America, O’Conner warned that about half or possibly more than half of minor league baseball teams could sell or fold completely. “It’s north of half (of MiLB teams) who could either have to sell (or go insolvent without government or other help). This is the perfect storm. There are many teams that are not liquid, not solvent,” Conner said. “I could see this (economic impact) lingering into 2022, 2023 easily. In some cases, possibly a little longer.”

And finally ESPN with an article that basically sums it all up

Key questions as Minor League Baseball officially cancels 2020 season - ESPN - June 30, 2020 - The Professional Baseball Agreement, the document that governs the relationship between MLB and its affiliates, expires in September. Last fall, in advance of baseball's annual winter meetings, news leaked of baseball's plan to cut the total number of affiliated teams in the minors from 160 to 120. That news kicked off a fiery volley of rhetoric between the respective league offices as both sides positioned themselves on the public relations and political fronts...      Will minor league teams survive this? Teams at the Double-A and Triple-A levels will survive, even though many have had to lay off or furlough staff in recent months. One thing that nearly all teams at those levels have is the certainty of being a high-level affiliate of a big league club next season and beyond, however the negotiations for a new PBA are resolved. Those teams reside in larger municipalities than lower-level clubs and thus have more corporate support and a larger season-ticket base. Nevertheless, even for those clubs, the loss of an entire season is a major setback.      What will minor league baseball look like when it returns?      ...The most likely outcome is that a new PBA will be agreed to, and it will be on MLB's terms. Given the terrain, desperate MiLB owners will latch on to pretty much anything that comes their way. Expect to see a reduced list of affiliated teams next season, a shuffling of affiliations and a restructuring of the leagues themselves as major league clubs seek greater geographic efficiency.

Hounds Opinion: So, when we take all of that and put it together, what is the sum of the equation. Hickory Inc. needs to put that pedestrian bridge on hold. Right now I won't get into the reasons why you don't jump into big projects with both feet. We've seen roads to nowhere, trails to nowhere, and other infrastructure projects that ended up being mistakes built from sea to shining sea across the United States. I hope we don't see Hickory building a bridge to an empty/dormant baseball stadium.

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