There has been much discussion about the future of Ladd-Peebles Stadium of late. Should its footprint remain basically the same and more taxpayer money put into it, or should it be torn down or scaled down or repurposed into something else entirely — something the surrounding community could enjoy more than just a few times a year?
This is not a new discussion. But in the last few months, the stadium seemed to have been dealt what could be viewed as its final two death blows, so it has become a hot topic once again.
The first blow came with the Mobile County Public School System (MCPSS) announcing it would no longer hold events there. After a shooting during a high school football game in October that left multiple people injured, MCPSS and stadium management spent a good amount of time pointing the finger at each other over who was responsible for security lapses. Though that answer is still pretty unclear — well, unclear depending on who you ask — one thing is for certain, MCPSS said it would be moving its games and other events elsewhere, starting immediately. And that promise has been kept.
The second blow came when the LendingTree Bowl followed the University of South Alabama Jaguars and the Senior Bowl to Hancock Whitney Stadium, the fancy, schmancy new home of the Jags on USA’s campus. This was a “blow” everyone expected.
So this has left Ladd with a couple of football games on the books and not much else — at least at this very moment. And those are great events for the city, but the big question is, why can’t they play those games at Hancock Whitney too? And do we really still need a very old and very large football stadium?
Newly elected City Councilman William Carroll, who represents the district where the 73-year-old stadium sits, has been its biggest champion of late.
His argument is a city our size needs its own stadium. It would even be an embarrassment not to have one.
I am familiar with this argument because it is the exact same one I make for reimagining the Mobile Civic Center.
But there is a big difference. There are literally hundreds of events at the Civic Center each year — even in its current money-guzzling, musty-smelling, outdated state.
And those events run the gamut — concerts, graduations, awards ceremonies, recitals, dinosaur and monster truck shows, jury duty, vaccine clinics, job fairs, arts and sporting events, and of course, one of the city’s biggest economic drivers, Mardi Gras.
And promoters assure if they could just update some of the staging to meet the requirements of today’s touring acts, they could keep the venue booked with a variety of different shows across the genres that would appeal to all Mobilians.
I think you can absolutely make the case that a city our size needs some sort of “civic center.” Now is that a brand new one or a rehabbed one or something that is smaller and more efficient but can still host all of the aforementioned events? Mayor Sandy Stimpson is supposed to let us know sooner rather than later. And I am eagerly awaiting to see what his answer to that is when he addresses it as he has promised to do in his “100-Day Plan.” Tick, tock, Mayor!
But can you make that same argument for a septuagenarian football stadium that is also outdated and money-guzzling? Especially when there is a shiny, new one a few miles away that could host any games it needed to?
That’s just a tougher case to make.
How many football games are running around looking for a home? In addition to that, even if we dumped a bunch of money into Ladd and modernized it, how many other events and/or promoters are out there searching for a footprint such as Ladd to hold events?
I don’t know the answer to that exactly, but it seems like if folks were lining up to have events there, we would have heard about it already. This exodus of events from Ladd didn’t just start in October.
Councilman Carroll has suggested a BayFest-like music festival there, but there is a reason those types of festivals have faltered all over this country, not just in Mobile. I am not sure that is the answer either.
I am not against Ladd — I have fond memories there too — but is there truly a need for it anymore? I just haven’t seen anyone make a very convincing case for it yet. Why not turn it into something that is more usable by the surrounding neighborhoods on a daily basis and less of a drain on the city coffers?
To me, the biggest reason to keep it as a city-owned stadium left in October. When some of our high schools — OUR Mobile kids — needed to play their games there because they had nowhere else to go, we needed it for them, even if the nickels and dimes and bottom lines didn’t necessarily justify it. But now that they don’t, it’s even harder to make the case.
I have thought for some time, it would make the most sense for MCPSS to purchase it to use for their schools that don’t have enough property to build stadiums on their own campuses. And perhaps they could rent it out to the football games that don’t want to make the move out to Hancock Whitney for whatever reason. Seems like a win-win.
This stuff is not easy. I get it.
There has always been a back and forth on what sort of “quality of life” events or facilities municipalities should provide. Parks aren’t money-makers, but we all agree we should have them. It’s just hard to find that perfect balance.
If your kid plays basketball, soccer, tennis, baseball, football, golf or whatever, parents want municipal parks, courts or courses available for them to be able to practice on.
And our city does a pretty good job accommodating those needs, but you could ask every parent if the city or county could be doing more for their kids’ sports and the answer is always going to be yes.
Just ask swim parents right now if they think there is a desperate need for a publicly funded natatorium. (Spoiler alert: They do!)
There is always going to be an unlimited list of wants and needs for any municipality, but, unfortunately, there is never going to be an unlimited pile of money.
So how do you balance all of these competing interests?
You try to figure out where the biggest needs are while trying to figure out where you are going to get the biggest bang for your buck.
And I am just not sure we are seeing much need for, or getting much bang for our buck with, a 73-year-old stadium anymore.
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