The Mobile City Council is delaying a vote to support the proposed on-campus stadium at the University of South Alabama with $500,000 per year for debt service, for twenty years. That vote is now scheduled for July 31st; and according to NBC-15's Nicole Fierro, that gives Councilman Levon Manzie a chance to get feedback on the future of Ladd-Peebles Stadium at a public hearing. That hearing is scheduled for Williamson High School on Monday, July 23rd at 6PM.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson has endorsed the city's role in getting the on-campus stadium built, but he's looking to get the money for it by closing Ladd and instead building a smaller stadium for football, lacrosse and soccer -- one which would serve high schools and middle schools in our area. And who knows, it could also become the perfect venue for our AFC Mobile soccer team. The University would also contribute $2.5 million up front for that project.
The mayor says the money saved on Ladd Stadium maintenance would more than pay for the cost of the city's contribution to the new on-campus stadium. He claims the cost of maintaining Ladd without deferred maintenance would be $33 million, or $90 million to rebuild the stadium from the ground up.
But all that talk about using the savings on one to build another seems to have galvanized an opposition faction that's concerned about what happens to Ladd-Peebles Stadium and its surrounding neighborhood. Mobile County Commissioner Merceria Ludgood gave voice to this concern a couple of weeks ago, and the Council's delayed vote all plays into that.
Another issue comes from unintended consequences. A law that was recently passed to protect Confederate monuments in Alabama could prevent Ladd Stadium from being torn down at all. It's called the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act; and of course, the stadium memorializes a couple of individuals -- Ernest F. Ladd and E.B. Peebles -- neither of whom have anything to do with the Confederacy. But the law isn't that specific, because of course it isn't. So we now have a law that might prevent the stadium from being torn down because it's more than 40 years old; and Ladd-Peebles Stadium is closing in on 70 years old.
The question for South Alabama fans is one of timing. Fans were told the stadium could be open by the Fall 2020 football season if they break ground before the end of July. Will they wait for a City Council vote to break ground? My money says they really need to wait. If they are too presumptuous, it could backfire and then they simply don't get the votes.
For those who thought the stadium project was a slam dunk, think again. Mayor Sandy Stimpson and the University community have their work cut out for them. They will need to convince the community, and most especially the neighbors who live near Ladd Stadium, that it's not worth saving in its present form -- and that the new, smaller stadium will be a net positive for the neighborhood.
Meanwhile, the County Commission -- which is also being asked to contribute -- is watching and waiting; they're not planning to take any action until after they see what the City of Mobile is doing.
It's going to be an interesting ride.