Naismith group visits Knightdale although funding decision is months away

mhankerson@newsobserver.comMay 9, 2014 

— The Naismith Giving Foundation started to make itself at home last week at a reception hosted by the town of Knightdale as it waits for Wake County to make a decision on partial funding for the group’s proposed $10 million competitive basketball facility off Forestville Road.

The county has $6 million from taxes on hotels and food and the money is being used to invest in projects that would benefit Wake County’s tourism industry.

The project is estimated to create 52,000 hotel stays and $12.1 million in total economic impact over the next seven years, Naismith Legacy Group told the Wake County Board of Commissioners in March.

“They clearly met that technical criteria that’s most important to me that we’re investing the money in a significant project that will make an impact on our tourism industry,” said Wake County commissioner Joe Bryan.

For the Naismith group, Knightdale is a favorable location because the pieces are falling into place without much pushing, James Naismith said. His grandfather, also named James Naismith, is credited with creating the game of basketball.

He said the purpose of the project is not to neccesarily create future NBA players.

“(The facility would be) used not to develop the physical skills to play the game but to develop an understanding of how to play the game,” Naismith said. “If you can play the game of basketball, you can play the game of life.”

He said the idea of using basketball to instill lifelong lessons was really what his grandfather wanted to do with basketball.

The elder Naismith originally received a degree in theology but figured sports would be a better way to reach younger children than preaching, his grandson said.

“The important thing is that (Naismith Giving Foundation and the town) have a similar bottom line,” Naismith said. “There’s just no other way to talk about it.”

Logistics coming together

The land – 170 acres donated by Wake Stone – is in place and the town is on board.

The only thing the project still needs is a $3 million commitment from the county.

The project won’t cost the town anything: the land the group would use was donated and the $7 million the county can’t fund, the group plans to raise through private donations.

Bryan, who was the only commissioner to come to the reception, said it would be a few months before the board votes on where the county will invest money.

County staff, however, did recommend the Naismith project as a favorable choice on March 10.

According to Wake County staff’s recommendation, the tentative plan would give the Naismith group $1.5 million and allow them to come back for another $1.5 million. The money would be the last money put into the project.

Bryan said the proposal is strong because it makes Wake County and Knightdale a tourist destination but it also allows year-round residents to use the facility when basketball camps aren’t held.

“It’s exactly what you’d like to have and its something that was significant,” he said. “This will be something that will have a major impact for our community.”

The county had an idea of what it wanted in an ideal project: $10 million in annual economic impact, 10,000 or more nights booked in local hotels and at least $900,000 in taxes.

The Naismith facility is projected to generate about $9.7 million in annual economic impact, about 33,000 hotel stays and about $3.2 million in taxes (which can include sales, food and beverage tax and occupancy taxes).

The facility takes cues from Cooperstown Dreams Park in New York and Bryan said the Naismith facility will have the same name recognition and national attention as Cooperstown.

“Presuming they are able to bring about their dreams – and dreams do come true – (the Naismith Legacy Park) will mean national significance right in eastern Wake County,” he said.

Hankerson: 919-829-4826; Twitter: @easternwakenews

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