Winston-Salem City Council Divided on Proposed Sale of Joel Coliseum & Bowman Gray Stadium
A proposal to sell the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum and Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem has cleared another hurdle.
Winston-Salem City Council members voted as a committee Monday night to continue discussions about the potential sale of Lawrence Joel Coliseum to Wake Forest University and Bowman Gray Stadium to Winston-Salem State University.
The group looked at several issues raised by citizens at public hearings last month and asked questions directly to university officials.
They wanted to know if a free parking agreement between for Bowman Gray Racing would be indefinite, how the Salem Creek Connector project could impact the area around the stadium and how to retain the Joel coliseum name and veteran’s memorials.
“There is a chance we would name the coliseum something different, but we are committed to naming the lobby, the Lawrence Joel Veterans Lobby and the outdoor area where the memorials currently reside the Lawrence Joel Veterans Plaza,” said Ron Wellman, director of athletics at Wake Forest University.
Wellman says as part of the sale, Wake Forest University is offering to donate an acre of the land around the coliseum back to the city for a permanent memorial for Lawrence Joel and veterans.
The city wants to sell both facilities for financial reasons. Assistant City Manager Martha Wheelock says both venues need capital improvements and the cost to operate them is too much for the city. She says the sale would save taxpayers about $30 million over the next 20 years.
Victor Johnson Jr. is vice chair of WSSU’s board of trustees. The university uses the stadium for its football program. He says it’s time to let the schools take over.
“I think it would be a plus for both of our programs. I played on Bowman Gray when I was in high school and college. It feels like home to me but we don't own it. We need to own it to try to make some money for those kids that we have to recruit,” says Johnson.
During the meeting, some council members also questioned how to protect future community events at the coliseum like high school graduations and if the city should even be in the business of owning and managing a coliseum and stadium. Four council members voted to recommend the resolutions. One council member, James Taylor voted against the action.
Derwin Montgomery, who represents the East ward, was one of two council members who abstained. He says he would like to see more public input before a final decision is made on either facility.
“I wish we would not have gone forward and that is why I abstained from the vote for now, I think we should have had some more discussion and I do feel in some sense there is some pressure to hurry up and make a decision when I think we need to be slow and deliberate in the process,” says Montgomery.
Meanwhile, Wake Forest has submitted a formal bid of $8 million for the coliseum. Wellman says the university will invest around $18 to $20 million to upgrade the venue. WSSU is considering the asking price, around $7.1 million for Bowman Gray stadium, but is waiting for legislative approval to move forward with their offer.
City officials say they would like to finalize the sale of both Joel coliseum and Bowman Gray stadium by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
Montgomery says city council members will likely vote on the matter during their next meeting on May 20.