Photo | Lagniappe
The latest proposed agreement between the city of Mobile and the University of South Alabama would give the city $2.5 million to renovate the 70-year-old Ladd-Peebles Stadium for a $10 million contribution from the city over 20 years.
The Mobile City Council may be getting closer to resolving the month-long debate over a financial contribution to a proposed on-campus football stadium at the University of South Alabama.
About a month ago Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration introduced a letter of intent that would move the city toward an agreement with the university for $10 million in funding over a 20-year period. As part of the agreement, USA would give the city $2.5 million to renovate Ladd-Peebles Stadium in midtown. Because of the proposed $2.5 million, residents, the administration and councilors alike have linked the issues related to the 70-year-old Maysville stadium and USA’s stadium.
Many residents have argued against giving $10 million in taxpayer money to the university, which has not requested anything of the USA Foundation, which has hundreds of millions of dollars in endowment money.
However, at a meeting Monday of a stadium task force, which was essentially an ad-hoc committee, Council Vice President Levon Manzie revealed he and others have been working behind the scenes on a mysterious plan for Ladd and the surrounding community. There are few details about the plan and it’s unclear whether it will appease residents concerned about the stadium’s future.
“I am not at liberty to discuss it at this time,” Manzie, who represents the Maysville neighborhood, said at the meeting. “I’m hopeful we can keep this about the letter of intent.”
Following Tuesday’s pre-conference meeting, Manzie opened up a bit more on the plans. He said the initiative would involve the revitalization of Maysville and not just the stadium. Manzie said the plan is a team effort involving a number of councilors and the mayor’s office.
“We’re trying to reach a consensus,” he said. “We’re trying to be fair.”
Manzie said the plan would help “recognize the significance of Ladd” to the community. He added that plans would be revealed before the vote on the stadium deal Tuesday, Aug. 14.
“One doesn’t move without the other,” Manzie said.
While Manzie’s “initiative” is light on details, plans surrounding the city’s letter of intent with USA became more clear at the task force meeting. The agreement would spread the $10 million from the city to USA over a 20-year period in $500,000 increments to help pay off debt service the university incurs for construction of the stadium. The letter estimated the debt to be $1 million per year or more.
The funds would come from economic development and the agreement would be similar in structure to deals the city has made for the Shoppes at Bel Air and Westwood Plaza.
As part of a proposed agreement, the city would be able to use the USA stadium rent free for the Senior Bowl, the Dollar General Bowl and for city-sponsored events.
A possible snag developed in discussing which entity would be responsible for the fees associated with the use of the stadium. While the university would provide the stadium rent free, the city would be responsible for the fees associated with city events there. The expenses could range from $16,000 to $22,000 per event.
Manzie argued the city ought to be exempt from paying the fees, given the $500,000 per year contribution it would be giving to the school.
“We’re being treated like other entities that aren’t buying in,” Manzie said. “In rare cases the city has an event, we ought to be treated differently.”
USA President Tony Waldrop seemed skeptical the college would budge on the issue.
“We can take it under consideration,” he told councilors. “I don’t know if we’re willing to go there.”
The council also asked that the language regarding funds given to Ladd be changed in the letter. While Manzie asked that the money be used to renovate or repurpose the stadium, councilors led by task force Chairman Fred Richardson eventually settled on removing the word “repurposing” altogether.