Some of Doris Walton’s best memories are kept in a small purple box.
Inside the nondescript box, the Maysville resident has saved the ticket stubs from every Senior Bowl she has attended since at least the 1970s.
“I attended every one with my husband,” she said. “We just walked across the street.”
Walton didn’t speak during a two-hour meeting on the future of the Senior Bowl’s current home, Ladd-Peebles Stadium, but quietly wished it would stay put.
“Ladd means a lot to me,” she said. “I made a lot of memories at Ladd.”
When she and her late husband didn’t attend games there, they would invite friends over to watch the scoreboard from their backyard. That was until its orientation was changed.
“We had a wonderful time,” she said. “We enjoyed the games. I want them to keep Ladd. I want it to stay where it is.”
The meeting, held Monday, July 23, in the shadow of the city-owned stadium at Williamson High School, grew contentious at times, as Mayor Sandy Stimpson made his case for the 70-year-old facility’s repurposing.
At issue for many at the meeting is a plan for the city and county to contribute $500,000 per year for 20 years to a proposed on-campus stadium at the University of South Alabama. In return for its contribution the city would receive $2.5 million from the school for the repurposing of Ladd.
While the city has previously floated the idea of a 5,000-seat high school football stadium being built around Ladd’s current field, Stimpson walked some of that back Monday. At the community meeting he told residents the city wanted to hear from residents first. He also said he would appoint a citizens committee to help develop plans.
He did confirm that his vision includes football still being played at the stadium, but didn’t elaborate further.
The total of $10 million over 20 years would come from the city’s economic development fund, Stimpson said.
“USA is one of the largest economic development entities in the city,” he said.
At issue with Ladd, Stimpson said, is roughly $7 million in deferred maintenance and another $2 million in maintenance per year beyond that. Estimates done by the city’s architectural engineering department have costs topping out at $33 million to keep the stadium in good condition, Stimpson told the crowd.
Up until about two years ago, USA only paid expenses at the stadium, Ladd board Chairwoman Ann Davis told the crowd. She said now the school pays $20,000 per game to use the stadium.
Since 2000, a period spanning three mayoral administrations, the city has spent roughly $300,000 per year on Ladd, Stimpson said. In contrast, Stimpson said other projects in Maysville need about $4 million in deferred maintenance.
“We have to give up something,” he said. “There are multiple projects we need to do in the community.”
There is also a total of $83 million in deferred maintenance citywide, Stimpson said. The city is currently spending $1.2 million per year on deferred maintenance all over the city.
“There’s a lot going unfunded,” Stimpson said. “There’s not enough money to maintain Ladd and do the other things we need to do.”
When asked if the $10 million proposed for the USA stadium could cut down on Ladd’s maintenance costs, Stimpson admitted that it could, but added it wouldn’t be enough to sustain it long-term.
Stimpson also said, when asked, that the city would not take out a bond issue to make improvements to the stadium. He cited financial issues from before he took office as a reason.
Stimpson also fielded questions related to how the city planned to protect African-American culture and specifically about what was planned for the annual “classic” game featuring two historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) football teams.
“ … It doesn’t mean it can’t be played somewhere else,” Stimpson said of the game in question. “I didn’t say that’s what you wanted, I said ‘it could be.’”
In addition to USA football, the Senior Bowl and the “classic” game, Ladd hosts four local high school football teams.
To address questions related to the proposed stadium’s capacity, Stimpson said the on-campus stadium would initially seat 25,000 with possible expansions to 30,000 and 35,000 in the future.
“We’re not filling Ladd up as it is,” he said. “Even if you were going to rebuild it, I don’t know if you should rebuild it as is ….”
Walton wasn’t the only Maysville resident in attendance to have sentimental reasons for wanting Ladd to remain.
“Ladd is special,” Thomas Davis said. “It should remain open because of its importance to the city and the inner city. It should not be torn down.”
Others had a more pragmatic view of the situation, like former cIty Councilman William Carroll, who said it was the city’s responsibility to maintain Ladd and it should remain that way.
“We did not do maintenance and we’re trying to find another way to resolve it,” he said. “We need to continue to do the maintenance to the stadium so it could remain viable.”
Many of the stadium’s additions are relatively new, including the press box and field, Carroll said. Keeping the current structure well maintained would allow younger promoters to come in and schedule events.
Zane Horn, who said he believes the stadium should be torn down, said he’s skeptical of giving money to USA. He called the idea of giving them $10 million while receiving $2.5 million in return a “shell game.”
Stadium supporters have questioned the plan to contribute to the stadium when it appears USA has enough money, or donors, to build it itself. School officials have already publicly stated USA Foundation money cannot be used to build the stadium.
In addition to the foundation, USA has a multimillion-dollar endowment, funded through contributions from donors. USA spokesman Bob Lowry could not be reached by deadline to answer questions about the endowment.
Horn also said the city doesn’t do enough to maintain city-owned property near the stadium. He has worked for a year to clean up city property adjacent to his own property. He said if the city can afford to contribute to USA’s stadium, it can reimburse him.
The meeting at times became contentious, with moderators on several occasions forced to pause the question session to quiet the crowd. Councilman Levon Manzie stepped in at one point to speak directly to upset citizens, citing the outbursts as a reason some of the community meetings are held in churches.
“I called this meeting so we could hear from the mayor about his proposal,” he said. “You may disagree with [Stimpson] … but at least listen to his answers.”
Manzie also told the crowd the future of Ladd is far from being a done deal, as some were claiming.
“We would not be engaging the public if we didn’t want to hear what you had to say,” he said.
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