The funding of athletic facilities has recently dominated headlines in Mobile County. It can be difficult for parties to agree on and gather financing on such a massive scale.
Several cities within a short drive of Mobile have faced this situation and managed to find answers. Here is a look at those solutions.
The situation that most closely parallels Mobile’s took place in the state capital, Montgomery. The Cramton Bowl was a 24,000-seat stadium that opened in 1922 for baseball. Five years later, the first nighttime football game in the South was played there between high school squads. Along the way, The University of Alabama often took up the field until 1954, while the Blue-Gray Football Classic was a familiar Christmas Day event through 2001.
Its most regular inhabitant was Alabama State University. The deteriorating condition of the facility, though, inspired school officials to pursue an on-campus stadium.
A new $62 million structure opened on Thanksgiving Day in 2012, just off Interstate 85. Hornet Stadium (pictured above) currently holds 26,500 fans but is designed to allow for an expansion to 55,000.
Funding for construction can be traced back to a lawsuit state Rep. John Knight filed in 1981 against Alabama officials for maintaining separate — but unequal — higher education programs. The case was finally settled in 2006, with a $600 million, 30-year campus renovation plan included. Of that total, $250 million was set aside for new construction, and the new stadium was financed through bonds.
To help keep the stadium busy, school officials partnered with the Central Alabama Sports Commission to hold soccer matches and other sporting events at Hornet Stadium, as well as concerts.
Additional funding has come from renting out 20 luxury suites at $19,500 per year, along with club seats and loge boxes. A number of corporate sponsorships also helps pay the bills.
Meanwhile, the Cramton Bowl received a $10 million facelift in 2012 and a synthetic field turf was installed in 2014. A 70,000-square-foot, multi-purpose sports facility has been added that can accommodate 15 volleyball courts, six tennis courts, two soccer fields or 20 wrestling mats. Also added was a “Walk of Fame” to honor Montgomery’s sports history. The Camellia Bowl game started playing there in 2014, while five high schools call the stadium home.
Tulane University once was the site of a massive 80,000-seat on-campus stadium. It hosted three of the first nine Super Bowls and the Sugar Bowl starting in 1935, and the New Orleans Saints joined in during 1969.
The introduction of the Louisiana Superdome drew all those events away from the uptown location. The day the Superdome opened in 1975, much of Tulane Stadium was condemned. The final event there was a high school game in 1979.
The problem of not having a true home venue was soon apparent. Tulane’s supporters were often outnumbered in the massive Superdome by opposing fans wanting to visit New Orleans. The undergraduate student body, which numbers just over than 8,000, often did not make the journey downtown. School officials even looked into shutting down the football program in the 1990s.
After 39 years, it was decided a return to campus was needed. The 30,000-seat Yulman Stadium opened in 2014, near the site of the original football facility.
What makes the planning for this stadium so unique is that it was paid for with private donations. Richard Yulman’s family gave the initial $15 million and followed with another $10 million as a challenge to other supporters. Tom Benson’s family put $7.5 million into the project. Another major contributor was Manchester United owners Avram and Jill Glazer, while 50 other donors pledged $500,000 or more. Naming rights for the locker rooms and press box contributed to the budget.
Fans are now able to enjoy a festive tailgating experience prior to kickoff on the beautiful campus. The stadium also serves the local community by hosting high school games.
The largest project set to take place is planned for downtown near the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC). In July, a bond sale took place to support a $300 million stadium and renovation of the Legacy Arena coliseum.
A 45,000-seat football stadium is planned. Construction could start this year, with the field ready for games in 2021.
Funding for the project has come from many sources. The Birmingham City Council voted in March to commit $90 million over 30 years, while the BJCC Authority pledged $10.7 million to the annual debt service. The Jefferson County Commission will kick in $1 million annually over the next three decades.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) has played its games at ancient Legion Field since the program was founded. Plans to build a $75 million on-campus stadium fell through in 2011.
UAB and the corporate community have committed a combined $4 million a year for 10 years. This will cover the Blazers’ lease, as well as sponsorship and naming rights. The Alabama Legislature approved a bill that would use car rental tax funds to help with the project.
Another tenant will be a team in the new Alliance of America Football professional league. The yet-to-be-named squad will open the season in February at Legion Field before moving to the new downtown facility.
Legion Field celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2017. Structural issues led to the upper deck being removed in 2005, reducing capacity to 71,594.
The stadium faces an uncertain future once the downtown site opens. In July, the Birmingham City Council approved $40 million in bond funds to make improvements in numerous projects, including Legion Field. The city will spend $2.25 million on new turf, improved stadium lighting, security upgrades and seating repairs.
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