Limbed by lost grant funds and looming deadlines, Asheville has had to back off on planned improvements at Memorial Stadium and will seek a less expensive design for the facility’s long-delayed memorial to Asheville’s war dead.
Like other city projects, the upgrade was hobbled by rising construction costs in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and recent personnel changes in the Parks and Recreation Department have left new staffers playing catch-up on a lengthy list of projects needing attention. But the recent implosion of several financial arrangements has further stalled the planned improvements and sent the plans for an elaborate, walk-through memorial back for a cost-cutting redesign.
At a meeting earlier this month, City Council shelled out an unexpected $589,000 to pay for replacing the field’s turf and lights. Fundraising for that project was supposed to have been handled by the now-defunct Asheville Splash women’s soccer team, but the city wound up holding the ball.
“So that was a hole we had to fill,” Parks and Recreation Director Roderick Simmons told Xpress.
At the same meeting, Simmons recommended that Council return a $248,000 grant from the state’s Parks and Recreation Trust Fund to fund phase two of the project, noting that under the terms of the grant, the city would have to come up with $1.2 million and complete the work by June.
“Even if you gave me $1.2 million tonight, I don’t see how we can get this done by then,” he told Xpress.
Built in 1927, the original facility was dedicated to those who’d died fighting in World War I. A 1949 renovation extended the dedication to include World War II fatalities. And though an actual memorial planned for the site never materialized, a granite wall was eventually built on the grounds of Mission Hospitals (which has agreed to donate it to the stadium as part of the walk-through memorial once the site is ready).
In order to spread out the cost, parts of the memorial—such as the foundation and pavilion—were bundled into phase two of the planned stadium renovation. “We wanted to break the elephant into pieces but eat the whole elephant,” Simmons explained.
But with phase two now stalled and funds in short supply, the memorial will need a redesign to stay alive—and within the $247,500 budget provided by a federal grant.
A heritage on hold
Perched above McCormick Field (the home of the Asheville Tourists), Memorial Stadium is tucked between the boarded-up McCormick Heights public-housing complex and the newly designated Beaucatcher Overlook Park. But the stadium’s shiny new artificial turf seems at odds with the aging red-brick stands and the neglected arch that previously served as an entryway to this often-overlooked recreational facility.
In 2003, then Vice Mayor Carl Mumpower, citing an Xpress story about the stadium (see “Assault and Memory,” July 9, 2003), pushed for the creation of the Memorial Stadium Action Committee to advance the initiative and raise money. But it remained a contentious subject on Council, and just when so many loose ends finally seemed to have been resolved, Mumpower voiced disappointment about the latest developments.
“The bottom fell out of it,” he told Xpress. “It’s basically a dead end, and I find it very frustrating.”
Jim Drummond, who served on the committee and now chairs the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, says the stadium has other needs as well, such as a new concession stand and press box. “It’s not just a luxury; it’s a necessity,” he said. “And all of those veterans, in a way, they’re in limbo.”
Despite the shrunken budget, Simmons says he’s confident that the original architect can create a less expensive design that will incorporate the granite wall (now in storage while Mission Hospitals builds its new tower).
“We’re not going to completely scrap the idea,” he said. “I think we need to keep as much of the original concept as possible.”
And Drummond, who leads a youth-football and cheerleading program at the stadium, says the memorial’s redesign is only part of the solution for a historic park that remains hidden on a hillside above town.
“It hasn’t gotten all of the support of the public it needs,” he said. “We’ve got to get that campaign back on track.”