Citizens Want More Say in Sale of Joel Coliseum & Bowman Gray Stadium
The future of two major venues in Winston-Salem remains uncertain. On Wednesday, the public had its first opportunity to weigh in on the potential sale of Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum and Bowman Gray Stadium.
Dozens of people attended a public input session Wednesday in the stadium’s field house near WSSU to share their thoughts and concerns.
Resident Luther Williams says, “I’m concerned with the cost of purchasing the stadium. I see this figure says $8 million and I thought it was $6.5 million, so I want to know what the final cost will be.”
Frank Wood added, “My immediate concern is that the coliseum was named after Lawrence Joel, our only Medal of Honor winner in Winston-Salem. It’s no longer going to be named after him, according to what I have read. I would like to know if I’m wrong about that.”
Linda Marshall of Winston-Salem says, “I’m a big racing fan. I want just to keep the races going, to keep the NASCAR going. This is the largest attendance for a Saturday night race. Also, I'm concerned about keeping the Bowman Gray name, because the Bowman Gray family has been great to this community.”
City officials say the asking price is the debt that the city owes for the properties. The minimum purchase price for the coliseum is $8 million and around $7 million for stadium. No formal bids have been made, but the city wants to divest both facilities by the end of the fiscal year, which is June 30.
Assistant City Manager Martha Wheelock says both facilities need capital improvements and the cost to operate them is too much for the city. The city says the sale would save taxpayers about $30 million over the next 20 years.
Other concerns raised by residents at the meeting include continued access to parking at the Coliseum during the Dixie Classic Fair and free parking for Friday night racing at Bowman Gray.
Some people also say they want the public more involved in the decision making process. Wheelock says there are more opportunities for people to share their thoughts.
“This is not a transaction that requires a public hearing. City Council was interested in gathering the input of the community to make sure those needs will be considered and addressed by them. This is the first of four sessions. There are three other meetings scheduled that citizens can do the same thing,” says Wheelock.
Wake Forest plays its basketball games at the Coliseum, while WSSU plays football at Bowman Gray. The state legislature must approve the acquisition for WSSU.
Owen Cooks, vice chancellor of facilities at the university, says WSSU would inherit the lease for Bowman Gray Racing with the purchase of the stadium. The university would also acquire 94 acres of land around the stadium.
“It includes a lot of additional parking that would be helpful to our campus. The Civitan Park lands, which we lease now from the city could be further developed with facilities. We have interest in developing a baseball and softball stadium in Civitan Park,” says Cooks.
Athletic officials at Wake Forest University wouldn’t comment on their potential purchase of Joel Coliseum.
The next public input session will take place April 11 from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. in the Deacon Room at Joel Coliseum.
Another session will be held on April 16 from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. at the Bowman Gray Stadium Fieldhouse. The final session will be held on April 23, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. in the Deacon Room at the LJVM Coliseum.
Attendees will have an opportunity to comment about either facility at any session. Those who cannot attend a session can read about the potential sales and leave comments through an online form or by calling the Citizen Feedback Line at 734-1400. The information and form will be available beginning April 10 at www.CityofWS.org http://www.CityofWS.org.