WMS Update

The Greensboro Parks & Recreation Commission’s “task force” on the future re-use of War Memorial Stadium held its first real meeting last night.  This committee has been charged by the City Manager’s Office with determining how the historic stadium and surrounding property will best serve the community after minor-league baseball moves to new digs in 2005.

There was consensus among the 10 or so folks in attendence that the primary users of the field should be college and amatuer baseball teams.  Some suggestions were made to enhance the useage of the actual stadium structure including the creation of a museum in the building that would showcase the extensive history of what has taken place there since it first opened in 1926.  Other suggestions included establishing a restaurant on the grounds and perhaps developing a first class croquet coaurse in the picnic area between the stadium and the tennis courts.

My contention is that it’s imperitive to utilize the 6,000 seat capacity of the structure at least a few times per year to justify the stadium’s upkeep over the long haul.  WMS has hosted NC A&T and Greensboro College’s baseball teams for many years and they might draw 75 fans per game on a good day, which is not even enough attendence to open the concession stands.  If Greensboro Sports Commission president Marc Bush is successful in attracting AAU or other amatuer tournaments to the facility,  he said last night that such tournaments might only draw 1000 total fans over the entire weekend.

I suggested that WMS would make a great concert venue with little revision but the baseball only advocates in attendence stated that such activities would harm the playing surface, which is the predicted draw for the teams and their 75 fans that are supposed to insure the future viablility of the facility. 

Now let’s be honest, have you ever – or do you know of anyone who has ever, attended one of the 70 college games that have been played at WMS every season for the last decade or so?  That is the level of obscurity that War Memorial is facing if it becomes an exclusively amatuer baseball venue.

Right now, there is plenty of support for WMS and the political will exists for the place to be preserved and utilized.  What about ten, twenty or thirty years down the road when the taxpayers are again asked to foot the bill for yet another expensive renovation of an under-utilized 6,000 seat facility?  Will the same support be there then?  My guess is that it will not unless we can get a whole lot people patronizing the stadium and surrounding area so that average citizens can develop emotional connections to the Memorial. 

As a practical matter, the long-range future of War Memorial Stadium will depend more on the number of fans in the seats than the number games that are played on the field.

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