City of New Bern gives new baseball team exclusive use of Kafer Park and concession stand

Ballfield at Historic Kafer Park. (NBN Photo)
Ballfield at Historic Kafer Park. (NBN Photo)

Updated on Jan. 31 at 12:35 a.m. with a comment from the East Carolina Amateur Baseball League.

Jan. 30 article:

The New Bern Board of Aldermen granted New Bern Baseball, LLC, the exclusive use of Kafer Park and the concession stand for Old North State League baseball games, practices and community events through January 2033.

The Board of Aldermen approved two lease agreements with Alec Allred, owner of New Bern Baseball, during their Jan. 23 meeting.

Allred signed the leases between the City of New Bern and the baseball team, New Bern Southpaws. The park lease costs $20,000 and the concession stand lease costs $2,222.22, totaling $22,222.22 per year to be paid in cash or in kind. The first payment is due July 1.

The leases will allow the team to generate revenue from sources like concession stand sales, ballpark signage and other advertising sales, ticket sales, broadcasting, merchandise sales, investors and sponsorships.

Allred pitched the idea to rent the public park to Old North State League, a summer collegiate baseball league, during the BOA’s meeting on July 25, 2023. Allred told the board he founded the Old North State League with his father, Reggie Allred, and said his family owns the league. Public records show ONSL is based in Ramseur, N.C. and New Bern Baseball, LLC, was established on Nov. 6, 2023. The team has not played an official game.

He said ONSL would build a grandstand and beer patio, expand dugouts, add speakers and bullpens among other upfits to the historic park located at 603 George St. Allred estimated costs between $250,000 and $350,000 and requested improvements to be made in lieu of rent payments.

During the Jan. 23, Alderman Rick Prill of Ward 1 and Alderman Hazel Royal of Ward 2 asked for a list of improvements and when they would be made.

Allred said, “Our goal is to go ahead and do all improvements in year one, but the bigger projects like the grandstand and stuff like that, those will take time.”

Mayor Jeffrey Odham said the city would have a revenue stream for the next nine years whether or not improvements were made.

M. Scott Davis, the city attorney, said there was a general list, but the league did not have an obligation to make any improvements. He stated, “They are going to pay the city $20,000, but they have the option to come to the city manager and the board and propose to build a new stadium that cost $220,000.”

The lease authorized one improvement – cameras.

Dave Caccavaro, the general manager, spoke during the public hearing. He said, “This is another opportunity for adults and children to spend time together during the summer. This is a great opportunity to have another family event in a part of town that really could benefit from having more access, more people coming through.”

After a lengthy discussion, Alderman Bobby Aster of Ward 3 made the motion to adopt a resolution approving a lease with the New Bern Baseball, LLC, for Kafer Park. Alderman Bob Brinson of Ward 3, Alderman Johnnie Ray Kinsey of Ward 4, Alderman Barbara Best of Ward 5, Alderman Prill and Royal and Mayor Odham voted yes.

Kafer Park Concession Stand. (NBN Photo)
Kafer Park Concession Stand.

How do residents feel?

New Bern Now spoke with residents of Dryborough and neighboring communities, but they did not want to go on the record due to fear of speaking out.  When asked how they felt about the leases between the city and New Bern Baseball, LLC, some of the responses were:

-I park on the street. Where will I park?

-How will they stop balls from hitting homes, the cemetery and cars?

-Will they have sports camps for kids?

-How will they fit 1,000 people in the park?

-Why didn’t anyone tell us about it?

-How do I reserve the park?

-I pay taxes. How can the city rent out a public park to a out of town businesses?

-I didn’t know about it.

-Can I use it for my reunion?

-Will the murals stay?

-Where will I walk my dog?

Old North State League Teams

Over the years, Alec Allred pitched the idea of bringing a collegiate baseball league to many governing boards of towns, cities, counties and schools across the state, asking to lease public property for use by the ONSL.

In most cases, when lease or license agreements are made, ONSL creates new teams, or teams are relocated from one community to another and rebranded.

Thirty-six teams have played in the league since 2019. There are 20 current teams. The New Bern Southpaws team is among eight that will be starting the season for the first time with the league.

There’s not a lot of fanfare when a team folds so it took New Bern Now time to research and find out what happened to 16 former teams. NBN determined seven teams folded and the others were rebranded and relocated to different communities.

What happens to the team that called Kafer Park “Home”

In July, Allred told the Board of Aldermen. “We want to bring baseball back to some of these forgotten baseball communities and New Bern is one of those places.”

Kafer Park was home to East Carolina Amateur Baseball League, an adult baseball league, for the last few years. The league was founded in 2016 and played at the park three times a week from March to November.

ECABL players were not aware of the proposed plan until it was presented during the Board of Aldermen’s July 25 meeting.

The league had a lease with the city and contributed to the costs of improvements to the park.

New Bern Now reached out to Mark McKillop, the East Carolina Amateur Baseball League’s Commissioner for comment and he provided the following response:

“This is a big change for our league. Between two age divisions in our spring and fall seasons, we play more than 140 games a year. Planning and coordinating all those games on the limited number of fields that can support adult baseball in the city and county will be a challenge. The city and county are working with us on fields, and the Old North State League has agreed to let us play at Kafer Park when the Southpaws are not playing a home game. We have a few dates to fill in, but I’m confident we will get it done this year. Having one field that we could call home would be ideal, and we are going to work toward that for the future, but this year we will do what we need to do to get our players on the field. We are eager to see the changes at Kafer Park, and it will be fun to watch the Southpaws later this year. Ultimately, we want what’s best for New Bern and Craven County.”

Prior to McKillop’s response, NBN reported, the league was trying to find a new home to play games and practice. A statement on ECABL’s website reads, “There are a limited number of fields in Craven County that can accommodate baseball. Many of the fields are too small, and even fewer have lights for night games. On top of that, there are other organizations also using those fields. We’ve got some things we are working on for the future. This season, however, we will have to adjust and play on fields that are available to us at the time we need them. And I would not be surprised if we play on four different fields this year — Cutler, Heath, Creekside and Kafer. It’s going to take patience, coordination and communication to make this work, and we’re definitely going to make this work.”

Wendy Card, editor. Send an email with questions or comments.

Related article: Updated: Future of historic park depends on public input