The Ladd-Peebles Sports and Entertainment Complex could get brand-new locker rooms with a $500,000 increase in the stadium board’s budget in fiscal year 2021.
Joe Mishkin, a member of the facility’s management group, asked councilors to amend Mayor Stimpson’s fiscal year 2021 budget to include $500,000 for new locker rooms on the stadium’s north side.
The additional $500,000 would match county funding from last year and give the board the roughly $1 million it needs for the new features, which would help attract bigger football games in the future.
“We’re constantly looking at ways to improve Ladd and make it as useful as possible,” Mishkin said.
The board initially considered removing seats from the complex and adding a permanent stadium, he said. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Mishkin said, the group decided to use a temporary stage and keep all the seats intact.
“Because of the pandemic and social distancing requirements, we didn’t feel it was the right time to eliminate seats,” Mishkin said. “We can seat 7,000 fans in the stadium while following proper guidelines of six feet apart.”
The plan shifted, Mishkin said, to building new, larger locker rooms. The current locker rooms, he said, haven’t been updated since the stadium was built in 1948. The new locker rooms would be 1,250 square feet larger than the current ones.
“The locker rooms hamper our ability to attract big-time football games,” Mishkin said. “We’re asking you guys to match the county’s funding of $500,000.”
The stadium will host the Gulf Coast Challenge in the spring, as well as high school games. The city is under contract to host the LendingTree Bowl, but the scheduling is unclear due to the pandemic, Mishkin said. The city currently pays the bowl game about $1 million per year, as part of the contract. It is the LendingTree Bowl organizers who first brought up concerns over the locker rooms, Mishkin said.
“They probably wouldn’t play here without the locker rooms,” he said.
Council President Levon Manzie said bowl organizers could then go get money from another community.
“If they ever are of the inclination that our stadium isn’t good enough to play in, I am not going to approve another dime for them,” Manzie said. “We give them $1 million.”
Executive Director of Finance Paul Wesch said the city’s contract with the bowl game ends at the end of this season or next season; the language in it is unclear. He said it’s written like a five-year contract, but documents show six annual payments going to the bowl game. Councilwoman Bess Rich suggested the money set aside for the bowl game be used for the stadium once the obligation has lapsed.
While Stimpson acknowledged the new locker rooms were his suggestion, he said he didn’t feel the work was imminent and the administration didn’t build any money into the budget to pay for it.
The council delayed a vote on Stimpson’s fiscal year 2021 budget for two weeks.
The $338 million general fund, capital and convention center budgets could be voted on by that time. While funding for Ladd was not increased this year, the budget does provide for 2.5 percent raises for all city employees.
The Capital Improvement Fund (CIP) will increase by nearly $12 million in fiscal year 2021. In addition to CIP projects, the capital fund will pay for improvements to the Trimmier Park football stadium and Mims Park combination field, and will be used to pay for an amphitheater at Langan Park.
Despite its planned move from Ladd-Peebles Stadium to Hancock Whitney Stadium and the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming college football season, the city has increased the budget for the 2021 Senior Bowl from $152,300 to $225,000. Wesch said the proposed increase is because the NFL has floated the idea of staying in town longer this year and adding more practice days because so many seniors may not have an opportunity to play a regular season.
Councilors seem very far apart on a spate of new rules relating to speakers. Councilman John Williams, chairman of the body’s rules committee, wanted to limit both the time speakers with petitions get in front of the council and the amount of time councilors have to respond.
An amended ordinance would limit speakers to three minutes with another minute given by request of any councilor and another minute given through a supermajority vote of council. However, the amendment also does not allow for councilors to respond to speakers.
Several councilors didn’t feel it was necessary to cut into the time given to councilors. Rich was concerned with how a councilor would respond to questions. Other councilors argued it was part of their jobs to respond and advocate for a position.
Williams suggested they move councilors’ announcements — traditionally at the end of the meeting — to follow petitions, but the idea didn’t seem popular.
Williams came out against the plan to shorten speakers if the councilors weren’t going to also limit their responses.
“It’s not our intention to shorten the meeting, then,” he said. “It’s our intention to shorten what they have to say. Y’all just really got to look at this. You’re going to cut their talk in public, but say ‘watch us.’”
Councilors delayed the proposed rule change for a month.
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