New park would be a tight fit

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A plan for a new $35 million ballpark for the Charlotte Knights calls for the team and their fans to squeeze into one of the smallest sites in Triple-A baseball.

The proposed 7.8-acre site in Charlotte's financial district would mean the Knights could move into the city after attendance numbers at their home in nearby Fort Mill, S.C., have fallen toward the bottom of the list among the nation's 30 Triple-A teams.

The new 10,000-seat uptown ballpark would take up just two blocks northeast of the Carolina Panthers' Bank of America Stadium where a vacant distribution center now sits.

Most Triple-A clubs building new stadiums have chosen bigger pieces of land, but some say there's evidence that smaller spaces work and might even help boost the area's economy.

Triple-A teams such as the Durham Bulls and Toledo Mud Hens in Ohio have found success with their 8-acre sites in the past decade. Even the major-league Minnesota Twins hope to begin playing in a couple years in a new 40,000-seat stadium that's being built on 8 acres in downtown Minneapolis.

One thing the Knights would say goodbye to is onsite parking. But Chris Dunlavey, president of a company that's overseen ballpark design for several minor and major league teams, said that might be better.

"Part of the purpose should be to help stimulate economic activity in the downtown," he said. "If you're creating a situation where people drive in, park, attend the game, then get in their cars and leave, there's not a lot of opportunity for a spillover effect into downtown."

Dunlavey's company, Brailsford & Dunlavey in Washington, D.C., has helped design stadiums for the Mud Hens, Cincinnati Reds, Washington Nationals and the Triple-A Sounds in Nashville, Tenn. He recommends that teams build a stadium on more than 7 acres, and says at least 9 acres is ideal. The Charlotte stadium's design hasn't yet been finalized, and those who have led other ballpark projects said design can be more important than size.

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