Friday, July 10, 2015

Memorial Stadium .. forgotten?

Major League Soccer (MLS) may consider an expansion team in Charlotte, but would this come at the expense of our historic built environment?

That's the impression given by a June 26 Charlotte Observer article discussing demolition of Charlotte's American Legion Memorial Stadium, begun in 1934 and completed in 1936 (Art Deco, Art Moderne architectural style period) by the Works Progress Administration (WPA).  Like many venues of its time, it was built to honor and remember soldiers lost in World War I.

Since we're in 2015 and just over 100 years removed from World War I, does this give us license to demolish history?  A July 2 Charlotte Agenda headline noted "I will strap myselft to the gate of memorial stadium to prevent it from being torn down" and raised some good questions about alternate sites:

Why not look at sites on the west side, along Freedom Drive or Wilkinson Boulevard? Or, how about the old Eastland Mall site? There are options out there that could not only be more cost effective, but revitalize parts of the city.

Major League Soccer (MLS) stadiums don't have to be brand-new, as demonstrated by the creative reuse and updating of Portland, Oregon's Providence Park stadium.  Originally built in 1926 as Multnomah Stadium, its name evolved with ownership by an athletic club, a power company and a window manufacturer, but its core location and character remained constant.  Renovations to support MLS occurred in 2001 ($38.5 million) and 2009-2011 ($31 million), with the MLS Portland Timber being one of the league's most popular teams today.

Tearing down Charlotte's Memorial Stadium would erase a bit of history, but building upon and modifying the historic base would provide continuity in our built and social environment.  The site is also near Charlotte's newly developing CityLYNX Gold Line streetcar, so Memorial Stadium could benefit from transit proximity, just as Portland's Providence Park's MAX light rail station serves legions of Portland Timber fans.

Charlotte has the potential to have an East Coast counterpart to Portland's stadium, a stadium that balances the past and present, so let's shift our mindset from "demolishing/replacing" to "modifying/updating".  The end result will be a more interesting stadium gained through the honoring of history.

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