UPDATE: The Mobile City Council met on Tuesday and delayed the vote on a partnership with the University of South Alabama yet again. (Details on what that vote is about are in my full story below).
The council could vote as early as next week (on 8/21), or they could table the motion yet again. Jags fans are understandably impatient with the process, but understand that the wheels of government turn slowly, and watching paint dry is usually more satisfying. There are often good reasons for delays, and I believe that this delay means the City Council is within reach of a "yes" vote.
But there are still plenty of things to work out, and consensus to be reached. An al.com story quotes Council Member Levon Manzie:
There are still some very serious moving parts to this particular item.... We've been in discussion with President Waldrop. It's going to take us at least seven more days to reach consensus on all of the very important parts that not only matter to the students and administration of South Alabama but matter to Maysville, matter to Hillsdale, matter to the supporters of Ladd Stadium. A lot of moving parts, here. I know that may be unfortunate to those who traveled expecting a decision, but if you had come expecting a decision, if one was given today, it might not be the one that you wanted."
So it's important to focus on solutions -- the future of Ladd-Stadium, the concerns of the stadiums' neighbors. If you're a fan of the Jags and a fan of our city, you want the best solution. To that end, I've laid out my idea for a bright future at Ladd; and I've personally shared my vision for Ladd-Peebles Stadium with each and every member of the City Council. I believe things will work out for both the University of South Alabama, and for the good of the city I love and call home. -- Mason
Whether we want to admit it or not, the future of Ladd-Peebles Stadium will be on the agenda at Tuesday's Mobile City Council meeting. The council is scheduled to vote on help in funding a new on-campus stadium for the South Alabama Jags. But it's also an opportunity to revitalize a stadium with a rich history, while supporting the surrounding neighborhood.
The council would specifically be voting to help the University of South Alabama with some of the debt service on their new stadium -- to the tune of $500,000 per year for twenty years. In return, the university would allow the Reese's Senior Bowl, Dollar General Bowl, and Gulf Coast Challenge to play their games at the new stadium rent-free. At least one of those games, the Senior Bowl, is committed to playing in a new Jags on-campus stadium, and it's expected that the Dollar General Bowl (at minimum) would follow.
But most important, the university would also contribute a lump sum of $2.5 million to help the city with whatever it decides to do with Ladd-Peebles Stadium in the future. And this is why the City Council needs to get on board.
In an earlier blog post, I wrote about what happens when (not if) the new stadium gets built on campus; and what that means for Ladd-Peebles Stadium and the surrounding neighborhood if nothing is done at Ladd:
It's September 26, 2020; and the Jags are hosting UAB at their new home. Jags Stadium is state of the art, with everything from great seating and suites to good WiFi. Ladd Stadium had a Murphy High School game the day before, and as a venue for multiple schools, it may host another high school game on Saturday. But the big ticket events that would fill a stadium like Ladd-Peebles have mostly committed to the new Jags Stadium. The Dollar General Bowl will be there in December, while Ladd sits idle. The Senior Bowl will be there in January, while Ladd sits idle. A full Jags season will come and go, while Ladd sits idle; or at best, hosts a high school game in front of several hundred people. The Gulf Coast Challenge, which started in 2018, has also been offered a home at Jags Stadium.
But I should've finished the thought. I should have also provided a vision of our future Ladd-Peebles Stadium after its redevelopment.
Let's imagine once more...
After a robust public process lasting several months, the future of Ladd-Peebles Stadium has finally been decided. Most people are happy with the result, which came together after months of design work, community engagement, and compromise. The stadium would be rebuilt in phases, allowing high schools to continue playing their games on the field over the next couple of years. Now it's 2022, and construction is done.
The first football game is a rivalry match-up between Murphy and McGill-Toolen, and my family is hoping the cannon will be painted blue after the game. Everyone wants to see what's been done, so a sell-out crowd of about 5,000 people fills the stadium. Sure, a lot of fans have come simply to see the facility; but they notice something else. The intimate environment has created a much better fan experience! Before the stadium's downsizing, five thousand fans didn't seem like much, and the stadium felt empty. Its cavernous size seemed to suck the life out of the crowd. But now, five thousand feels massive, electric! It's the perfect environment for high school football.
While the high school football crowds will usually be smaller than a full sell-out, the stadium's smaller footprint will ensure a better atmosphere at every one of those games. The revitalized Ladd-Peebles Stadium will also become the perfect venue for soccer at the minor league level. As our own AFC Mobile continues to draw bigger and bigger crowds, and as soccer continues its rise across the country, this will become a real need for our community -- one easily filled at Ladd-Peebles. In fact, between high school football and soccer and other school sports, the stadium will be busier than it's ever been. That's exciting!
The Ladd-Peebles Stadium Board has a duty to work for the good of the stadium long-term, But while I can understand Board Chairman Ann Davis's concerns, her worry about a new Jags stadium being tied to Ladd's destruction simply doesn't make sense.
Because doing nothing is not an option! Without doing anything, there is no long-term need for Ladd-Peebles Stadium. It would be a large, mostly unused stadium that costs too much to operate. But by making appropriate changes to the venue, Ladd-Peebles can have a really great future. It can be a showpiece for the surrounding neighborhood and the city at large for years to come.
Why not let the university invest in this vision?
The vote is scheduled for Tuesday, August 14th. Five "yes" votes will be required in order for the city to accept the university's offer. The university has been a tremendous community partner, even helping to save the Saenger Theater at one point. Once again, they are stepping up to help make our community a better place. Let's support that.
[Ladd-Peebles Stadiun Photo Credit: usajaguars.com]