Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The State of Planning for the Renovation of World War Memorial Stadium (more than you ever wanted to know)

This is going to be a very long post.

But because there's a lot of interest and a lot of misinformation about what has happened, is happening, and likely will happen to Greensboro's World War Memorial Stadium, I'm just going to pack in as many facts as I can.

Sorry if it's boring – think of it as an encyclopedia article. If you have an corrections to make or pertinent facts to add, let me know and I'll update it.

A Very Brief History of the Stadium

World War Memorial Stadium stands at the intersection of Yanceyville Street and Homeland Avenue, across the street from the Greensboro Farmers' Curb Market and a former VFW post. The City of Greensboro owns all three facilities.

WWMS was originally planned as an amateur stadium for track and field and football; an early conceptual drawing showed it with u-shaped stands and an arched colonnade all around the exterior of the stadium. That plan was never executed.

Completed in 1926, the stadium has an "inverted J" seating configuration. It has three arches at its entrance flanked by massive pylons in an eclectic mixing of classical and art-moderne styles. It is North Carolina's largest memorial to honor armed forces personnel who died during World War I. Its seating capacity is variously estimated at 5500-7500.

Early in its history the stadium began to be used for minor-league professional baseball, and that has been its primary use for most of its life. It was also used (and is used now) for college baseball by NCA&T University and Greensboro College, and for other amateur baseball teams that use 90-foot base paths.

WWMS was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. Its nomination to the Register was undertaken and paid for by the Charles B. Aycock Neighborhood Association. The stadium itself actually stands just outside the boundaries of the locally-designated Charles B. Aycock Historic District (which is listed on the National Register as the Summit Avenue Historic District).

After much civic controversy, and efforts by the Aycock neighborhood and local preservationists to keep professional baseball at the stadium (see below), the Greensboro Grasshoppers (formerly known as the Bats) in 2005 moved their minor-league franchise to a newly-constructed stadium in downtown Greensboro, First Horizon Park. In the same year, WWMS hosted about 200 amateur baseball games.

The TND Plan

In 2001, when civic leaders in Greensboro first proposed building a new stadium for the minor league team, the Aycock neighborhood was in the first stages of developing a master plan for neighborhood-wide improvements. The state of WWMS, which is adjacent to the neighborhood, had always been a concern, and plans by the Greensboro Bats to abandon the stadium raised worries that it would eventually fall prey to "demolition by neglect."

In response to the proposal for a new downtown stadium, the neighborhood engaged New Urbanist planner and neighborhood baseball expert Philip Bess to hold a planning charrette in the summer of 2002 and to draw up a comprehensive neighborhood master plan which would include a conceptual renovation program for WWMS. The neighborhood hoped that such a plan would entice civic leaders to invest in the historic stadium rather than build a new one.

That effort failed, but Philip Bess & his associated did produce in 2003 the Aycock Traditional Neighborhood District Plan (TND Plan), which illustrates many renovation possibilities for WWMS. The TND Plan also contains a wealth of conceptual plans for neighborhood-wide improvements and continues to be an important "idea book" in Aycock's neighborhood improvement efforts.

The cost of the charrette and the TND Plan was about $70,000. Money for it came from the Aycock neighborhood's Municipal Service District funds, from the City of Greensboro, from Guilford County, from Preservation Greensboro, Inc., from the Architectural Salvage of Greensboro, and from many individual contributors.

The Strategic Plan for the Aycock Neighborhood
A subsequent Aycock neighborhood planning effort, led by the city's Department of Housing and Community Development, boiled the TND Plan's many concepts down to a set of concrete goals and objectives that are contained in The Strategic Plan for the Aycock Neighborhood.

Some of those objectives relate in a very broad way to the best use and maintenance of the stadium and to improvements in the area surrounding it. The Strategic Plan was adopted as city policy by the Greensboro City Council in 2003.

The first phase of implementation of the Strategic Plan is the execution of a corridor study of Summit Avenue, part of which includes the WWMS area. As of this date, that corridor study is being done under the direction of the firm HadenStanziale, which has been charged with coordinating the corridor study with the work of the WWMS Taskforce (see below), and recommending streetscape, marketing, and transportation changes to the area around the stadium.

The WWMS Taskforce

In 2003, former city manager Ed Kitchen appointed the War Memorial Stadium Taskforce to undertake a 3-phase study of the future uses and configuration of WWMS. The first phase was to recommend the best uses of the facility; the second phase was to recommend appropriate renovations to the stadium, and the third phase would look at physical improvements in the area immediately surrounding the stadium.

Members of the taskforce include representatives of the Aycock neighborhood, NCA&T University, Greensboro College, The VFW, the American Legion, various amateur baseball organizations, The Greensboro Sports Commission, the Greensboro Historic Preservation Commission, Preservation Greensboro, Inc., the Department of Parks & Recreation, and the Department of Housing and Community Development.

The Taskforce met 6 times to complete the first phase of its work, and produced a set of recommendations for WWMS, as follows:
  • The major use of the facility should be Greensboro's premier venue for amateur baseball. The facility should concentrate its efforts on securing both the NCA&T University and Greensboro College baseball teams as regular, year-round users of the facility. Additionally, the facility should avail itself for all other amateur baseball uses that play on 90-foot bases.
  • In an effort to preserve the quality of the playing surface, it is recommended that usage should be limited to a range of 150 -200 game days (equivalent) per year. This must factor in practice times and must include the use of protective tarps for the high use areas during warm-ups and scheduled practices.
  • It is recommended that designated FT staff be permanently stationed at the facility to provide the quality playing surface that currently exists to accommodate college level play as well as enhance the City's ability to bring in tournaments to the facility. It is recommended that events, that would otherwise compromise the quality of the playing surfaces, not be allowed in the facility.
  • It is recommended that the City of Greensboro pursue the development of a baseball museum in the facility. Clearly, the historic nature of the ballpark functioning as a memorial to veterans of World War I, its proximity to an established Historic District, the facility being on the National Register of Historic Places, and its location relative to the existing Historic Museum, and Civil Rights Museum all suggest that some space be set aside to showcase the facility's history and the people who have played in it.
  • It is recommended that the City of Greensboro partner with private industry to bring a restaurant to the facility which would overlook the playing surface and would be accessible during game times as well as times when no events are scheduled.
  • It is recommended that to the extent practical, the facility be used to host concerts and civic events. Sporadic scheduling should not create unmanageable damage to the playing surface, especially if recovery periods prior to scheduled baseball events are greater than five (5) days.
  • It is recommended that the area between the ballpark and the tennis courts be evaluated for alternative uses such as croquet, bocce ball, and lawn bowling.

WWMS Taskforce Phase 2

The WWMS Taskforce began phase 2 of its work in 2004 as it searched for a planning and architectural firm to develop a set of buildable renovations plan for WWMS. Three firms submitted their qualifications for the project, and after interviewing them, the Taskforce selected the Winston-Salem firm Walter Robbs Callahan & Pierce (WRCP).

The planners have been charged by the Taskforce to come up with "good / better / best" recommendations for presentation to City Council. Whichever one is chosen by Council will likely be put up for a city-wide bond referendum.

September 12, 2005 meeting of the WWMS Taskforce

The Taskforce met on 9/12 with WRCP. WRCP led the meeting by reviewing the past planning efforts (see above) to verify that the goals for the stadium had not changed in the past few months since the Taskforce met.

Here's the checklist of items that were discussed:
  • Sports: everyone agreed that amateur baseball is a very high priority for the stadium. The primary users would be NCA&T, Greensboro College, and 16 years-and-up amateur leagues. Adult exhibition softball could also be accommodated. Other sports such as soccer, lacrosse, and track and field were eliminated from consideration because of the expenses and difficulty of maintaining a multi-use field. Accessory uses such as bocce ball and croquet may be accommodated in areas adjoining the stadium.
  • Community Events: Aycock Neighborhood representatives led by Betsey Baun and David Hoggard argued for the importance of bringing the public to this stadium, especially since amateur baseball events normally bring in small crowds. They suggested that concerts of limited duration – not all-day events such as ZoneFest – would be an appropriate use for the stadium in its neighborhood setting. Parks and Recreation staff were worried about the effect of these on the playing surface, but both groups seemed to agree that regulations for non-baseball activities could be developed to protect the field.
  • Restaurant: The idea for a restaurant with a view of the field was first proposed in the TND Plan, and the Taskforce indicated to WRCP that it should include some kind of restaurant option in its planning.
  • Museum: The Taskforce recommended to the planners that a museum of some kind be integrated into the stadium, but probably not as a separate or free-standing facility. Aycock representative Tracy Lamothe said that she had communicated informally with the Cooperstown baseball museum a few years ago, and that officials their had indicated their willingness to lend out historic items from WWMS in their possession.
  • Seating: This is the most difficult issue facing the planners. Part of the renovation plan must necessarily deal with the fact that the concrete foundations for stadium seating in the uncovered portion of the stands are so severely deteriorated as to be beyond repair, according to a report by engineering firm Sutton-Kennerly.
    Taskforce discussion focused on how much seating is likely to be needed, on the effects of reducing the seating on WWMS's standing in the National Register of Historic Places, and on whether reducing the amount of seating will limit future programmatic options for the stadium. David Hoggard and PGI director Benjamin Briggs both indicated that we simply don't know what possibilities exist for the stadium in the future, but that reducing seating too much would limit those possibilities.
    Eventually the group settled on three options: having 2,500 seats in the renovated stadium would be the "good" option; 3,500 would be "better," and 5,500 would be "best."
  • Precinct Planning: A number of options for the use and development of the areas surrounding the stadium were discussed. Many of these options – such as turning the area in front of the stadium into a public square (provisionally named "Veterans Plaza") – need to be coordinated with the Summit Avenue corridor study currently underway. All agreed that the area around the stadium need visual improvements and that potential expansion of the Farmers' Market should be considered. It was not felt that any additional on-site parking was needed.
Future Meetings

WRCP said it would digest the September 12th discussions and would plan to meet again with the Taskforce in a few weeks. In all likelihood, there will be many more meetings of the Taskforce with WRCP before concrete plans take shape.

1 comment:

jimcaserta said...

What kills ballparks like WMS is neglect, with Durham's DAP a prime example. More games decreases the likelyhood of neglect, and makes more people interested in the upkeep/remodeling of the stadium. Is the number of seats really a problem? When was the last time the stadium drew > 5,000 fans? > 3,000 fans? UF's baseball team drew > 5,000 twice and > 3,000 six times. That's with 50,000 students and a town that revolves around gator sports. 3,000 is a realistic adequete number. I hope the stadium stays in good shape because it is a monument worth preserving, and it is also a really nice field to play on.