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The City of Asheboro is working on a new lease agreement with the Zookeepers, who plays its game at McCrary Park. 

What's the sweet spot?

Janet Imrick

Randolph Hub


ASHEBORO – The debate over fees for using McCrary Park continued for a fourth month at the Asheboro City Council during its May 9 meeting.


Despite disagreement, the city council unanimously greenlighted the next step toward finalizing a new lease agreement with the Asheboro ZooKeepers baseball team.


After reviewing a memo by City Manager John Ogburn, council member Clark Bell made a motion to authorize city staff to draft a lease agreement. The memo recommended a lease rate of $1,000 beginning July 1, 2024, increasing the rate to $2,000 in 2025 and to $3,000 in 2026 for the remainder of the lease.


Mayor Pro Tem Walker Moffitt recommended a lease for five years.


Before coming to that recommendation, Mayor David Smith, Moffitt and Bell met with ZooKeeper owners Ronnie, Doug and Steve Pugh to discuss their involvement with the ballpark.


Debate over Cost

Council member Joseph Trogdon contested the lease rate, saying it was very low given the costs to the city. Asheboro pays about $32,100 for 30 ZooKeeper home games. At the March meeting, they had suggested they start bargaining with a $20,000 rate proposal.


"What happened to the $20,000?" Trogdon asked at the May meeting. "We'll be subsidizing a private business."


Trogdon went on to argue that the city has been making deals without a formal process to fund the renovations of McCrary Park.


Mayor Smith described the history of the park's renovations and safety upgrades, and how conversations began in earnest when the Coastal Plain League franchise — then known as the Copperheads — threatened to leave if those renovations did not happen soon. 


Smith said he met with the Pugh family and Blue Ridge Companies CEO David Couch, a three-sport athlete from Asheboro High School whose philanthropy has supported athletics in the Piedmont-Triad area.


"I just told David there were things we had to do," Smith said. "David said, 'Why don't you get it all on paper, see what it costs.' "

Since then, the ballpark has been resurfaced, had new grandstands installed, and gotten new lighting and restrooms, among other upgrades. The Pughs donated $1.2 million toward the renovations, with additional funding from Couch, the city, and state and local grants.


Some council members argued that while the ZooKeeper games come with a cost, other not-for-profit teams cost the city more. 


"The beneficiaries of this $7 million [in renovations] are Asheboro High School and American Legion, who play four times as many games as the Zookeepers,” Bell said. “If we're going to recoup from the ZooKeepers, are we going to charge the high school and the American Legion?"


Moffitt said, "If the owners of the team choose to have a benevolent operation, that is their choice. There is no way you can take what they've capitalized and deem it any way other than that."


Trogdon said, "My concern is we're not following a process. Stuff is happening down the line, and we've sort of all agreed to that. You start getting questions of 'who did this?' and 'how did that happen?’ ”


Beyond the money

Ogburn's memo said the ZooKeepers contributions to the park are more than monetary. He referenced the team's sponsorships, which include the Asheboro Kiwanis Club's Senior American Legion games, the American Legion Southeast Regional Tournament for 2024 and 2025, and the Fall Ball League for high schools.


Council member Eddie Burks said, "What the Zookeepers do for Kiwanis club, as the club gets older and not capable of running things like we could run 30 years ago, this organization has stepped up so that the Kiwanis club is still alive, still giving out scholarships."


Smith said, "The high school plays 30 home games, but they are practicing every day they're not playing away or home. They are well over half the games at the park."


Moffitt said that if they want to formalize Asheboro's deals with the ZooKeepers, they should also create formal memorandums of understanding with Asheboro High School and the American Legion. 


“There's a minimum of four agreements I feel are being discussed tonight,” Moffitt said. “The Legion, the high school, the Zookeepers' playing lease, and then the first right of refusal to retaining anything that comes for sale. That's not amenable to the lease. That's a separate agreement, but it will have to reference the lease.”


Now ... what about ballgame business?

As the Asheboro City Council continued its discussion on a lease with the ZooKeepers baseball team, they gave some initial thoughts on other policies for McCrary Park. At the May 9 city council meeting, City Manager John Ogburn said they should secure a right of first refusal for the team.


Ogburn said the city of Martinsville started a similar ballpark improvement project only for their baseball team to announce plans to leave. He said, "Capital Broadcasting owns the Coastal Plain League. They have deep pockets. That's the real threat to us, that we make this huge investment in McCrary Park, and then if all that were to vanish."


Council member Clark Bell and Mayor Pro Tem Walker Moffitt concurred that the city needs to secure its ties to the ZooKeepers, one of 15 baseball teams within the Coastal Plain League. It is owned by Ronnie, Doug, Mike and Steve Pugh. The brothers, who grew up in Asheboro, bought the team in 2004.


"There are examples of companies willing to buy out teams,” Moffit said. “We’d like to at least be involved in that consideration."


City Attorney Jeff Sugg warned against rolling right of first refusal into the discussion at the May meeting, as they are still discussing the terms of a lease for use of McCrary Park. He said a right of refusal would have its own terms and conditions.


"The devil's in the details, and that's what we need to work out," Sugg said. "Let the terms of the lease be worked out regarding the leasing of the venue."


They also touched on naming rights of park property and concession profits. 

Council member Joseph Trogdon was critical of the $1,000-$3,000 annual rate proposed by Asheboro city staff for the ZooKeepers, given it's a private company that the city would be subsidizing. Moffitt brought up naming rights as another way to offset the costs of renovations.


Sugg said the city council could adopt a naming rights policy if they wished. He said, "The question is how much the council is willing to let a single person act in the municipal authority."


They moved to who should keep profits for concessions at future games. They agreed that it will likely come down to whoever ran the concessions per game and whose equipment was used, and that the city staff and ZooKeepers should keep their operations separate per game.


City Attorney Jeff Sugg referred to the old lease with the ZooKeepers. He said, "When operating concession operations, the ZooKeepers shall be responsible without help from city for performing all operations and costs of responsibilities — purchasing and maintaining equipment and inventory."


Jonathan Sermon, director of recreation services, also said they could arrange for the city to rent out the field when the ZooKeepers, high schools and the American Legion teams don't use it. To do that, he said he would need to draft a fee schedule.


Moffitt asked Sermon to draft a proposed fee schedule by June’s city council meeting.