Local & State
|Renovations to American Legion Memorial Stadium underway|
|$32 million project results in rebuilt venue|
|Published Friday, September 20, 2019 5:02 pm|
|PHOTO | ASHLEY MAHONEY|
|Heavy equipment await Friday's groundbreaking ceremony at American Legion Memorial Stadium. Upgrades to the stadium should be finished in 2021.|
American Legion Memorial Stadium is finally undergoing renovations.
Friday’s groundbreaking for $32 million in upgrades to Charlotte’s first major event venue, dedicated by former president Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, is projected for completion in 2021. Mecklenburg County has allotted $32 million as a capital project to the stadium, which has fallen into disrepair over eight decades. The City of Charlotte will contribute $3 million from tourism tax revenue, which will fund the artificial turf surface.
“I am happy that my fellow commissioners agreed with me when I said to them how important this would be to keep Memorial Stadium in our community, and to honor the veterans who it was built to honor,” said county commissioners chair George Dunlap. “For this day to come about, the groundbreaking ceremony, having seen the plans and engaged with the community, I’m just excited.”
Said District 4 Commissioner Mark Jerrell: “It took a while, but we’re here now.”
The project’s contractors, Barton Malow, oversaw the creation of BB&T Ballpark in Uptown.
“It’s a sigh of relief that it’s finally here,” Charlotte City Council member and Economic Development Committee chair James Mitchell said. “I think we’ve got a great general contractor, Barton Malow, with a sports resume edifice with a local expertise. I think it’s a great collaboration between the county and the city, because we understand the historic significance of this Memorial Stadium. Shrine Bowl was held here for a long period of time. The CIAA football championship game was here. The Battle of the Border football game between North Carolina A&T and South Carolina State, the Battle of the Bands—this facility means a lot to Charlotteans. I was glad to see that the county and city could collaborate and make sure we restore a very historic facility in our community.”
The Charlotte Independence, a minor league soccer team, will be the primary tenant for the 10,500-seat stadium.
“For me, it’s a little bit of a sigh of relief, but I always knew it was going to happen, somehow,” said Independence President Jim McPhilliamy.
The Independence initially began working with the county on a deal in 2016, calling for $24 million split evenly between the county, the city and team. However, Charlotte’s 2016-17 MLS4CLT bid under Charlotte Motor Speedway executive Marcus Smith, which was not affiliated with the Independence ownership group, left the county leery of what County Manager Dena Deorio described as “negotiating away our asset.”
Retired Nucor CEO Dan DiMicco, a former trade advisor on President Donald Trump’s campaign, increased his investment in the Independence in January 2018. Commissioners noted that his involvement encouraged them to pursue renovating Memorial with the team in mind as the primary tenant.
“While it did take us a while to get to this point, we feel like this is a fantastic project,” Diorio said. “The Independence are going to bring a tremendous amount of energy to the stadium, but it’s also going to be a stadium for the people. We’ve got a really nice balance between making sure that we’ve got steady entertainment, but also making sure that it’s available for the community.”
Said DiMicco: “We were the hook to help get Memorial Stadium renovated. We sat down with Dena and Mark, and talked about how we could be a part of making this happen. We were very proud to be part of it, especially because of its ties to our veterans and the military.”
While McPhillamy’s goal has been placing a team at Memorial Stadium since acquiring the rights to a USL franchise in 2014, there was an issue with the field’s width. Renovation proposals were met with resistance due to concerns about tearing down the original stone wall that makes Memorial too narrow for professional soccer. The stones will be restored and the commemoration of the American Legion will still be present.
“The stone wall will be basically chipped apart,” said Barton Malow General Superintendent Dean Slate. “All the stone will be cleaned and palletized so that a mason can come in when we get the new wall built and reuse that stone veneer to maintain the historical look of the stadium and reuse the stone that is actually here. We’re not buying materials. We’re not sending that stone off to a landfill. It is a little more expensive and time-consuming to reclaim this stone, but in the big picture, it’s not really that much of an excessive cost. The wall is [over] 80 years old. It’s got a lot of weathered use, and it’s starting to crack apart anyway. It should come down relatively easily. We’ve got really good bidding to actually do the work. We’re in good shape economically and maintain that historical piece of the stadium too.”
As fencing goes up around the site, work cannot officially begin until the workers meet with N.C. Department of Environmental Quality Erosion Control.
“We have to have a kick off meeting in order to start working out here and disturb any soil,” Slate said. “That’s going to happen this coming week.”
Up first: reclamation of the aluminum bleachers and the stone wall.
“Full [demolition] should start in two-three weeks, where we are actually coming in and taking all the concrete down and crushing it up,” Slate said. “We’re actually going to reuse most of the concrete onsite. We’re not going to truck it off. That’s going to happen. Over the next six weeks—full demolition.”
Said Victor Jones of Jenkins Peer Architects: “We got very good pricing on the demolition, because D.H. Griffin, who won the bid, they’re taking all the aluminum seats, and they’re recycling them. The aluminum is worth money. They’re taking the concrete, and they’re recycling it. The Department of Transportation, they grind up the concrete…they’ll take the steel reinforcing that’s in the concrete, and they’ll recycle that. They figured out the quantities for all that, and they shared those savings with the owner as part of their bid package.”
While a soccer team will use a majority of the dates at the stadium, the county’s goal is to see it house multiple events once again. The Charlotte Hounds, a Major League Lacrosse team, had been the primary tenant of the stadium. They entered a two-year hiatus in April, rather than play at temporary locations.
“There are a lot of different things you could do here,” McPhilliamy said. “For me it’s, every weekend you are throwing a party, and if you can get people together for the party, I’m a little bit agnostic on the sport—not that I don’t love the Independence and the Hounds, but when we can bring all that back here, I almost want people to think, ‘hey, I know something is going on down at American Legion Memorial Stadium—let’s go and figure out what it is.’”
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