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City Council gets glimpse of plans for War Memorial


By Mark Binker Staff Writer

News & Record

GREENSBORO -- The city will embark on a three-pronged plan to renovate War Memorial Stadium and develop the area around the 77-year-old ballpark after the minor league Greensboro Bats move to a new home if the City Council follows a plan presented Tuesday.

Two of the three steps should be completed by the end of the year or in January, said City Manager Ed Kitchen, who outlined his idea to council members. Work on the first phase, finding and repairing basic structural problems, is already under way.

The Parks and Recreation Commission, an appointed board, would lead the second phase: determining what events will take place in the stadium and proposing adjustments to some of the nonhistoric sections.

Kitchen said a final, presumably longer phase, would begin next year as the city looks at how to redevelop and reuse the area surrounding the stadium and how those changes might fit in with Aycock and other existing neighborhoods.

Council members gave their implied approval during an informal briefing Monday but could not take any official action.

"Let's do it,'' said council member Yvonne Johnson, echoing sentiments from other council members.

A local consortium of nonprofit and business interests is building a new minor league stadium at Bellemeade and Eugene streets that will be privately owned. The Bats plan to move there for the 2005 season.

That proposal has been controversial, prompting an effort to stop the new stadium. That ended with an unsuccessful referendum earlier this month that could have prevented construction of stadiums downtown. A major objection by opponents of the new stadium was that city-owned War Memorial would be left to decay without its anchor tenant.

City officials, including the City Council, pledged that would not happen, and Tuesday's meeting was the first step in carrying through with those pledges.

Parks officials have said War Memorial will be even busier after the Bats leave because there will be more dates available for college, high school and other amateur baseball games. Recruiters have talked of using the newly available War Memorial to recruit the ACC and other college conference baseball tournaments, as well as youth and adult amateur tournaments.

Other uses for the fields, such as concerts, have also been proposed. But Kitchen warned that frequently using the field for things other than baseball could hurt the turf.

"You cannot regularly put other uses in and have it continue to be a high-quality baseball field,'' he said.

Once the parks commission completes its review of the stadium's new uses, Kitchen said that they may suggest changes such as reducing the number of parking spaces and seats or changing some of the nonhistoric parts of the stadium.

"I'm talking about the areas that frankly don't look too good,'' Kitchen said.

After the meeting, Kitchen said he expected to brief the council in January on the stadium's structural needs and possible future uses, along with changes that could be made to the stadium itself. At that point, he said, he expected council members to help establish a process to determine what will be done with the land surrounding the stadium, much of which is also city-owned.

Residents from one of those neighborhoods, Aycock, have already created a strategic plan for their area that includes improvements to War Memorial as well as other improvements, such as landscaping and slowing traffic on Summit Avenue.

"What the manager said really is what we were looking for,'' Aycock resident David Wharton said of the work program Kitchen outlined.

The Aycock neighborhood's proposal included items such as increasing enforcement of housing regulations, improving nearby parks and burying power lines.

Council Member Robbie Perkins said he liked the plan but questioned where the neighborhood and the city would get the money to pay for the suggested improvements.

"How do you mesh the Aycock plan and the allotment of resources called for in that versus what needs to be done downtown,'' Perkins said.

"What is it you have in mind to spend money on downtown,'' asked Council Member Tom Phillips.

Perkins said that he thought the city would eventually need to make some investments after projects such as the new stadium and a downtown park were under way.

"I don't have a specific project in mind," Perkins said.

"That answers my question,'' said Phillips. He said that the city needed to help Aycock because it was a neighborhood that should be part of downtown but had been isolated by major roads such as Summit Avenue.

In fact, slowing traffic and improving Summit Avenue was the part of the Aycock proposal best received by council members, including Perkins. Kitchen said that those improvements and other requests from the neighborhood should be incorporated with and compared to other needs in the city's long-range spending plans.

"This is one part of the city,'' Kitchen said. "There are a whole bunch of folks throughout the city who are asking about similar kinds of things."

Regarding War Memorial, Wharton presented a concept drawing that showed the city-owned area nearby developing into shops and entertainment venues. Other suggestions have included developing a neighborhood recreation center to complement the stadium and the nearby city-owned tennis center.

In other business, the council reviewed the annual report from the East Market Street Development Corp., a group trying to attract businesses back to what was once a thriving business corridor.

After that presentation, Mayor Keith Holliday told council members and Kitchen that he would like to see the city put more police walking and bicycle patrols along the corridor to help students from nearby N.C. A&T and others feel more comfortable walking to the area.

"One of the important things that helped turn around downtown Greensboro is the perception that it is safe to walk around at night," Holliday said.

The council is scheduled to review proposals for adding more officers to the police department starting in December and continuing through the spring budget season. Doing so is expensive but considered a high priority for council members.

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