Government Plaza was a sea of red today as hundreds of South Alabama alumni, students and fans showed up to support a proposal for both Mobile County and the City of Mobile to help provide debt service funding to a proposed on-campus stadium. The standing room only crowd heard testimony from several supporters of the project, including a few residents opposed. One, in fact, said that if his tax dollars are used to support the on-campus stadium project, "we'll boycott and protest."
The proposal is three-fold:
- The County would provide $10 million to help service debt on the new stadium over a 20-year period -- $500,000 per year.
- The City would also provide $10 million to help service debt on the new stadium over the same 20 years.
- The University of South Alabama would write a check to the city for $2.5 million, earmarked to the redevelopment of the Ladd-Peebles Stadium property.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson explained the proposal, saying that football would continue to be played on the Ladd property. But they would look at a facility that makes sense as a multi-purpose venue -- one good for football, soccer and lacrosse. One that could be used by both high schools and middle schools in our area, as well as other organizations.
At the earlier County Commission Meeting, two speakers took the podium -- one in support and one opposed. Ann Davis, chair of Ladd-Peebles Stadium Board, says this process needs to slow down, and she's concerned that the new stadium plan is tied to the destruction of Ladd.
Meanwhile, South Alabama Director of Athletics Dr. Joel Erdmann made the case for a partnership between local governments and the University. He maintains that their support is crucial in obtaining financial support from additional donors.
While listening to the back and forth between the Commissioners and Dr. Erdmann, it became clear that Jerry Carl is the project's biggest supporter on the Commission. He spelled out the importance of the Senior Bowl to our region, and how the new stadium will help keep it in Mobile. Not only did he clearly express his support, he ended the meeting by pointing out a major South Alabama contribution to the community -- $64 million in indigent care through the USA Health System.
Commissioner Merceria Ludgood is not necessarily going to back the project to the tune of $10 million; and she's concerned about the future of Ladd-Peebles Stadium. But once those questions are addressed, I got the impression that she's going to support the project.
The toughest one to read was Commissioner Connie Hudson. There are economic impact questions to address, and if the numbers look good, I think she'd go forward with a "yes" vote, as well.
This is all very speculative on my part, and a lot can happen between now and an actual vote.
The Mobile City Council meeting followed, and we heard from Dr. Erdmann again in support. Also, University of South Alabama President Tony Waldrop and others took the podium to express their support. There were a few people opposed who gave testimony, as well. But maybe the highlight was a speech from Councilmember Fred Richardson, who got big applause for his impassioned endorsement of the University (if not the stadium itself). Check it out starting at the 16:26 mark of the video below.
So what's next? Neither the City Council nor the County Commission voted on the proposal today. It's going to be at least a week, if not two, before the Mobile City Council puts the funding to a vote. It will be at least two weeks before the County Commission votes, as well. Mayor Sandy Stimpson also plans to address the County Commission about the city's plans for the Ladd Stadium property, to allay any concerns the commissioners may have.
I've felt for a long time that our city's venues are outdated -- from the Civic Center to our baseball stadium. The University of South Alabama is offering a fix to one of these problems, and further help with a Ladd Stadium redevelopment, with minimal investment from the city. And let's be clear, it is an investment. This instantly becomes an amenity that can help maintain the Senior Bowl, the Dollar General Bowl, and the Gulf Coast Classic for the long term. This amenity will also help take Jags football to the next level. For relatively little, the city and county will get the tax benefit from hotels and restaurants filling up, and from more people coming into the city to spend their money. And it deals with Ladd Stadium efficiently, in a way that helps that neighborhood. But whatever your feelings on the issue, I hope you'll consider taking it up with your elected representatives on both the City Council and the County Commission.