Ladd-Peebles Stadium is in “fair condition,” according to an engineering report paid for by the stadium’s board.
The executive summary of the report from Cain & Associates found many areas of the 70-year-old stadium in “good condition,” but others needing repair.
“The primary cause of deterioration to the steel and concrete surfaces is water infiltration,” the report notes. “This can be attributed to the fact that this is an open-air stadium in a very humid environment. Consideration should be made to future designs and repairs to eliminate conditions that promote water infiltration and erosion.”
Specifically, the report finds repairs are needed to the light tower support systems, the stadium deck, stadium ramp structures, stadium ramp handrails, steel columns on the concourse level and concrete repairs.
“The deficiencies noted in this report should be addressed to prevent further decline at the affected locations,” the report states. “Moving forward, an aggressive monitoring and maintenance program should be established to proactively mitigate any further deterioration.”
The board’s own study was completed after Mayor Sandy Stimpson released an engineering study by Barter & Associates in 2016. That study was released in conjunction with Stimpson and the University of South Alabama’s push to have the city contribute $10 million over 20 years to a new, on-campus stadium in West Mobile. As part of the deal, the city would have received $2.5 million in return to repurpose or renovate Ladd, but the agreement was eventually voted down by the Mobile City Council.
The 2016 study also put the stadium in “fair condition considering its age,” but gave it a grade of “D plus.” Ladd board Chairwoman Ann Davis has repeatedly told councilors stadiums typically aren’t given a letter grade.
The 2016 executive summary pointed to “certain deficiencies that constituted an emergency,” but they were “corrected.” Like the board’s report, the 2016 report called the area’s rainfall the stadium’s biggest threat.
“The biggest threat to the longevity of the stadium structures is uncontrolled rainwater,” the report stated. “Any repair plan that does not attempt to resolve the leakage will not be effective in the long term. All structures exposed to the elements are subject to gradual degradation.”
In the meantime, stadium management has made upgrades around the concourses, Mishkin Group Executive Director Vic Knight told board members at a meeting Monday, Dec. 17. In addition to painting, Knight said, the bathrooms have been refurbished and lights have been equipped with new LED bulbs.
Only two pages of the more than 100-page engineering report from earlier this year have been released. Davis said the rest would be released when the board receives cost estimates for other improvements.
“I don’t know what we can do until we get our money,” Davis told the board.
Davis said the board would like to do more but funding for upgrades is complicated, especially with the current power struggle in City Hall.
“The biggest thing is the power struggle,” she said. “They’re at a standstill.”
The council added about $750,000 to the board’s allocation in the city’s fiscal year 2019 budget, but Stimpson’s finance department has only approved the board for its annual $200,000 performance contract. When asked about the discrepancy at a recent council meeting, Executive Director of Finance Paul Wesch said the city doesn’t believe the Ladd board has the authority to spend capital money on its own.
Again, Davis has disputed this, saying the city has previously asked the board to be more autonomous, not less. She added the board, according to its charter, does have the power to contract.
Joe Mishkin, president of the stadium’s management company, said they enter into “contracts all the time.”
“We’ve entered into capital contracts out here,” he said. “That’s been going on long before we got here.”
Board member and former Councilman Reggie Copeland asked his fellow board members to be careful about entering into contracts.
In an attempt to get commitments for more public money, Davis said she has been in conversations with County Commissioner Connie Hudson. Davis said the county was waiting on a cost figure from the board on repairs before committing funding. She openly contemplated getting a bid for new locker rooms in an attempt to get a figure to the county. However, since USA still plans to move its football programs into its own stadium in 2020, a majority of Ladd board members seemed unwilling to look at improving the locker rooms, with other needs taking priority.
While the city seems unwilling, for now, to exceed the $200,000 it previously committed to the stadium, the board’s finances are in decent shape, auditor Mark Chapman reported.
The biggest blow to the stadium’s revenue in the 2018 fiscal year came from a decrease in concessions sales, which fell roughly $40,000 from 2017.
The decrease can be almost directly attributed to attendance figures, Knight said.
“The concession hit is the most notable thing,” he said. “You can’t sell a hot dog to someone who’s not there.”
Despite a drop in concessions, the stadium was in the black for the fiscal year, Chapman said, with $76,992 in net revenue.
Concessions revenue might be trouble in the future, as well, as Knight reported to the board there was a sharp decline in attendance for USA’s final two home games.
“It’s the lowest we’ve seen since they started the football program,” he said. “Concessions are dramatically less.”
Knight said with a better Sun Belt Conference schedule and home games against nonconference opponents Memphis and Jackson State in 2019, they hope attendance picks up.