Last night the Mecklenburg County Commissioners spoke to a proposal brought back up by Jim Puckett (R), District 1, to reevaluate the proposed partnership with the Charlotte Independence on renovating American Legion Memorial Stadium that was presented last summer. The prospects of MLS sidelined this plan understandably as the MLS plan was evaluated and turned into a political football. The outcome of that discussion lead to a 8-1 vote to direct the county staff to evaluate all options available for Memorial Stadium. We don’t know if that evaluation might include bringing MLS to Charlotte, but that might not matter in the big picture.
As we have started to develop an idea of what we would want a MLS stadium to bring to the community, one of the things that were important to us is that the stadium be designed with features and amenities that can be used year round. This didn’t just mean hosting events such as American Football, or giving dates to the county and city to use, but to have features to serve the community. One of the crazy idea was to have a grocery store to be apart of the stadium so it could provide food for the vendors at games and to be open to the community the rest of the time. Another idea has been to have any restaurants built for the stadium to be open to the public to provide jobs for people when the stadium wasn’t being used. Retail space could be designed to take the team store to transform and provide other goods to the community.
Not only had we envisioned ways to provided jobs to the community year round but wondered if we could have for example a young minority talented chef run that restaurant with mentorship from Speedway Motorsports Inc., so that chef can learn valuable skills in managing a successful business? What programs from Johnson C. Smith or Central Piedmont could use the stadium operations as an internship program so we can make sure Bank of America Stadium or Bojangles’ Coliseum is run successfully in those parts of the city?
Why do I mention these things that might seem out of left field and unfeasible? Because this is how we use the stadium to promote economic development in Charlotte. In our article last week we highlighted four sites that could house a stadium and have land for more development around it. Economic development in West Charlotte was the topic of discussion at the meeting before the topic of Memorial Stadium. As Queen’s Firm leaders and members listened to Commissioner Vilma Leake (D), District 2, with intense focus, we started to hear the exact things we had day dreamed about over a few beers.
Our mouths started hanging a gap and we looked at each other with “Ah-ha” expressions as Leake began talking about “Food Deserts,” areas that don’t have access to fresh quality food. Mecklenburg County is beginning to look at building space for these grocery stores to use to address this issue. We heard about conversations with developers who have land in West Charlotte but were afraid of developing that land because of the blight in areas nearby. A MLS stadium could be the catalyst make those developers start building and provide jobs and services to the community.
The other thing we walked away with is the economic development that the stadium would ignite on the westside could provide a feasible way for the Independence to get into Memorial Stadium and for MLS to come to Charlotte. There isn’t the land or really the need for this type of economic development at Memorial, so maybe our focus shift from that site. A 5-7,000 seat Memorial Stadium could properly serve the Independence, Johnson C. Smith football, Battle of the Bands, and high school sports. Heck, Johnson C. Smith could be a partner with the MLS stadium! If the renovations to Memorial were budgeted and sold as historic preservation and the MLS stadium as economic development, both projects could be funded with support from both fanbases.
What do you think about using the MLS stadium as an economic starter in West Charlotte? What kind of other ways can we make the stadium work for the community? Leave your comments below and lets get this discussion rolling!