Monday, January 30, 2006

Letter to the Rhinoceros Times

A note of explanation: I've posted here a letter I sent to the Rhinoceros Times this morning. Much as I miss and love blogging -- and am grateful for all the very kind comments many of you have left here -- I won't be posting on a regular basis. But I hope you won't mind me putting something up here very occasionally, and thanks for stopping by!

* * * * * * * * * * * *

January 30, 2006

Dear Editor:

The Rhinoceros Times story, "War Memorial to be Shell of Its Former Self," (Jan. 26, 2006, p. 4) contained many factual errors.

Rhino editor John Hammer wrote that the War Memorial Stadium taskforce meets "in secret – in violation of the North Carolina Open Meetings Law." But in fact the taskforce has complied fully with the open meetings law. Its schedule of meetings is kept on file with the taskforce's secretary, Richard Wagner, pursuant to section 143-318.12.(4) of the law. Furthermore, the time and place of the meetings is always on public display at the place of the meeting (though this is not required by law), and is freely available to any citizen who inquires. The openness of the meeting is further attested by the fact that Mr. Hammer has chosen to attend two of them, and by the fact that at the last one he attended, on January 17, 2006, he was actually invited to participate in the discussion and voting of the taskforce, though he declined to do so.

Mr. Hammer's recounting of the history of War Memorial Stadium is also muddled. He writes that the stadium was built in 1922, although it was actually built in 1926, and that "the city" built the stadium, although it was built with private donations and only later was turned over to the City of Greensboro.

Mr. Hammer reported that in 2003 "a study was done that said that the stadium was unsafe and needed to be torn down." But the study, conducted by the local firm Sutton-Kennerly and Associates, said only that "the stadium is undergoing widespread deterioration that is not easily repaired," and identified two areas that needed immediate attention. Those problems were addressed by the City of Greensboro to keep the stadium in safe operating condition.

Mr. Hammer reported that Assistant City Manager Bob Morgan "got on the phone and found out" during the meeting that a FEMA regulation doesn't apply to the stadium, which says that no more than 50% of a structure's assessed value can be spent on its renovation if it stands in a 100-year floodplain. But it has yet to be determined whether the regulation actually applies to the stadium, and investigations are ongoing, as was made clear at the meeting that Mr. Hammer attended.

Mr. Hammer's story attributes nefarious motives to members of the taskforce, though it doesn't appear that Mr. Hammer has actually interviewed any of them. He says that "obeying state law is of very little concern to this committee, and obeying the dictates of the people who run the city is of major concern." Given that the task force has fully complied with state law, his first assertion would appear to have no foundation. As to the second assertion, if by "the people who run the city" Mr. Hammer means the citizens who will eventually pay for the stadium renovations (or not – the choice will be up to them), then his assertion must be granted. All members of the task force are very concerned that any future renovation of War Memorial Stadium must provide the taxpayers of Greensboro with a beautiful, viable stadium that will provide a maximum bang for the taxpayer buck.

But I do not think that Mr. Hammer means "ordinary citizens" when he refers to "the people who run the city." He insinuates throughout his article that the members of the task force and the Winston-Salem architectural firm which is leading the taskforce's current deliberations are somehow under the influence of Jim Melvin. If this is so, it has been completely unnoticed by me or any members of the task force that I know. If Mr. Hammer has specific knowledge of Mr. Melvin contacting and subverting the members of the task force or the consultants,Walter Robbs Calahan and Pierce (WRCP), who are currently leading our discussions, I hope he will report that information in detail. If not, I believe it would be better that he not put mere speculation in his newspaper as if it were backed up by his investigations.
What is most remarkable about Mr. Hammer's reporting, however, is how little of what actually has transpired at the taskforce's meetings has made it into the pages of the Rhinoceros Times.
  • that the National Register of Historic Places has said that its two main concerns for the stadium are that it retain its historic function as a venue for baseball and that it remain a war memorial, and that the taskforce is fully committed to those ends;
  • that the National Register is a little uncertain about how to guide this project because it is so unusual: Greensboro is apparently a national leader in pursuing a renovation of this kind;
  • that the taskforce is working with the Greensboro Historical Museum to develop an on-site baseball museum at the stadium;
  • that the taskforce is contemplating proposing that the stadium be the focal point of a new city park, which would include the area surrounding the stadium, the Greensboro Farmers' Curb Market, and the former VFW post across Yanceyville Street from the stadium;
  • and that the taskforce has been coordinating its efforts with that of the Summit Avenue corridor study, currently underway, which will soon be proposing major improvements to Yanceyville Street as it meshes with the stadium.
Mr. Hammer often sets himself up as a spokesman for ordinary taxpayers in Greensboro, and many of us are grateful for that. If, then, he can explain why it is in the taxypayers' interest to spend millions of dollars on renovating or reconstructing thousands of seats in War Memorial Stadium which will almost certainly remain empty, rather than spending that money on upgrading an appropriate number of seats, locker rooms, restrooms, concession areas, museum, and park amenities in and around the stadium that are likely to be used by Greensboro's citizens and amateur athletes, then I look forward to his explanation.
David Wharton
War Memorial Stadium Taskforce member


Sandy Carmany said...


Welcome back and thank you so much for this detailed report and explanation. I know I can always rely on Hoggard and you to supply accurate information.

Joe Killian said...

Nice one.

Of course, one could easily feed an entire blog just dissecting the things the Rhino gets wrong, twists or just makes up from week to week.

jw said...

Remember the masthead of the Rhino Times?

"All the Rumors Fit to Print"

He doesn't have to explain anything to anybody, David. So don't hold your breath.


Diane Grey Davis said...

Hey David,
Glad to see you back. I check regularly, just hoping that you have posted.
I must disagree a little with you about the availability of information about the War Memorial Stadium Taskforce meetings. I tried for days just to find out the location of one of the meetings. I asked several members of the task force and also city staff. I finally found out and I did attend one of the meetings in a small meeting room.
I found it depressing and manipulated by some of the participants (not from the neighborhood) who act as if they want to gut the whole project and almost start over.
I hope I am wrong. Good luck on the Summit Project.

Sometimes I think that the description of "Stakeholders" in some city planning does not go far enough. All of us are stakeholders if we are part of the "paying public".
Now that you have started back, keep up the blogging. You are been missed.

Sally said...

David, you'd be interested in the paper Bruce Thomas of Lehigh Univ. gave at an architectural history conference at SCAD in 2003. From the abstract,

"This paper examines American war memorials proposed and built in the 1920s, focusing on the controversy over the appropriateness of utility as an architectural principle. In the years following WWI, although all agreed that dignified and beautiful tributes were in order for those who had died, two differeing philosophies of how to build war memorials emerged. On the one hand, it was argued that only a monument conceived solely as a commemorative device, with no other utilitarian function, would be appropriate. On the other hand, many felt that sacred memory was best channeled into a civic function, that is, to the war memorial auditorium, the memorial town hall, the memorial bridge. The debate illuminated changing ideas about the nature of the architect's role in modern society. . . ."