|Beyond a field of dreams in Gastonia's entertainment district|
|Brandon Bellamy merges development, baseball|
|Published Tuesday, September 1, 2020 8:40 pm|
|COURTESY BRANDON BELLAMY|
|The addition of a $21.5 million, 4,800-seat stadium is the cornerstone of the Franklin Urban Sports and Entertainment District in Gastonia. Brandon Bellamy, owner of the city’s new minor league baseball team, is partnering with the city to develop property in the adjacent area.|
Bellamy, a developer and owner of Gastonia’s new minor league club, is a rarity in modern baseball as the only Black person atop a professional franchise. The CEO of Maryland-based Velocity Companies Inc., he’s collaborating with the city on economic development projects near a new 4,800-seat multi-use ballpark that will open in time for the club’s debut next year. Among the projects in the works are residential, retail, hotel, and office space, which city leaders believe could result in $100 million in new investment in the Franklin Urban Sports and Entertainment, or FUSE, District.
According to Baseball America, Bellamy is the first Black majority owner of a professional club since Tom Lewis owned the South Atlantic League’s Savannah Cardinals in 1987. Gastonia has been without a pro franchise for nearly 30 years when its South Atlantic team relocated to Hickory.
Bellamy said he hasn’t given as much thought about his place in history as what it’ll take to be successful on an off the field.
“I never focused on that,” he said. “I don’t focus on that in my business now. I try to grow and run a successful commercial real estate company that’s mission led. I just happen to be Black, but I am aware of the significance of the moment and I’m honored that people are inspired by it, but it was not something that I zeroed in on.
“What I focused mostly on is that the community needed the project to move forward, and this was what it was going to take to do that. When we’re focused on a project, we do whatever it takes, so the fact that all of this comes along with it, it’s awesome. There’s a rich history of Blacks in athletics and Blacks and baseball and I’m honored to be a part of it.”
Now that all the pieces are in place for Bellamy to own the Atlantic League team as well as revitalization of the neighborhood surrounding the $21.5 million stadium, he’s eager to get started.
“I’m excited,” he said, “you know, the scary kind of nervous excitement you want it to be a great product, you want people to feel good about it. The people, the citizens, they make me feel good every time I talk to them. They’re so excited about it. It’s infectious so it’s keeping me motivated. I’m excited for what it can do for the community.”
Bellamy is stoked about the entire process, starting with the name the team contest that ended Aug. 31. He reported hundreds of submissions sent for consideration and the winning entry will be a name “the community is going to embrace, something that really represents them.”
“Everyone loves Gastonia,” Bellamy said. “They’re really proud of their community and also for the team, and there’s lots of opinions and ideas about the name, which is exciting. The name the team contest is hilarious, and I cannot tell you the names on this list, but there were like over 450 submissions in only five or six days. Some of the names are awesome, some were hilarious. The people of Gastonia are very creative, I must say.”
Bellamy doesn’t have a baseball background, but as an entrepreneur he’s looking forward to using those skills to build the franchise from the ground up.
“I boxed as a kid. I did not play baseball,” he said. “It hasn’t been until recently I really appreciate what the sport means. The thing I like about it [is] the teamwork that’s involved, the fact that the seasons are long, so it can be a grind. You’ve got to really show your character and show your mettle. I like the patience that you have to have in the game. You’ve got to be alert. You know you can’t be lulled to sleep.”
Bellamy learned about Gastonia from a former employer who suggested the city could benefit from fresh investment opportunities. After touring the city and talking to residents, he came away impressed.
“I started talking to people on the street,” he said – “it’s one of the things that I do whenever I’m going into a new place, and it was so amazing what people had to say about the community. They talked about some of the struggles that they’ve gone through, and I was just really impressed with their resilience, and their grit and their passion for the community.”
The Charlotte region has embraced sports as economic engine, from David Tepper building a headquarters and practice facilities for the Carolina Panthers in Rock Hill and the same for Charlotte FC in east Charlotte. Bellamy is excited to try his hand with doing the same in Gastonia while building a successful baseball franchise.
“I’m in the real estate development phase, but my thought is that development just by definition means to take something from its existing state and help it to realize its highest potential,” he said. “Whether it’s a piece of real estate, whether it’s a relationship, whether it’s a team, whether it’s a player, whether it’s a young person, I don’t care what it is that you are trying to develop. It means to help it achieve its highest potential. I love the idea that I love the process of that, and so we can do that for players and we can do that for teams and we can do that for this community if we can do that for the real estate that surrounds it.
The landscape of minor league baseball is changing. Major League clubs are cutting ties with minor league teams, and by extension the pipeline of players in the farm system. Lower-level clubs can either fold or go independent, which is where Bellamy is heading with the eight-team Atlantic League. Even with the challenges of locating players and baseball personnel during a pandemic, Bellamy is optimistic.
“I think you’ve got a lot of talented people who might be looking for some opportunities,” he said, “and I think we’re going to be in position to offer them. I think at some point on as challenging as this time period is for us all, things will normalize, and I think that we’re going to be in a unique position. When that happens, people are going to be looking for opportunities and I think we’re going to be able to provide some and hopefully set an example for other people to get involved.
“Minor league baseball is about fans in the stands, right? It’s about affordable family friendly fun. It’s about the community, it’s about engagement it’s about coming out for that for two or three hours and really forgetting about all the problems you may have and just enjoying yourself and join your neighbors. I think that’s a big deal if we can get other people to get involved in this particular business.”
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