Mecklenburg commissioners want more green space for county residents, and they’re contemplating a bold step to pave (or unpave) the way - a $300 million bond that would be used to buy land for greenways, parks and schools. Vice Chair Elaine Powell is leading the bond push, and the former Parks and Rec chair makes a good case: Mecklenburg is woefully short on parks and other types of green space, and a robust parks and greenway system is good for our county’s health.
We agree. Green space is more of an amenity than a luxury for Mecklenburg, and it’s a good recruiting tool for Charlotte. But we also think commissioners should take an even bolder first step toward a greener Mecklenburg. They should turn Memorial Stadium into Memorial Park.
American Legion Memorial Stadium, built in 1936 and nestled in a prime Elizabeth location, has long been one of the county’s most valuable and underutilized assets. It once was home to some of Charlotte’s biggest prep football games, but now occasionally hosts the sport while also being home to the Charlotte Hounds lacrosse team. And that’s about it.
Mecklenburg commissioners have a plan to change that — a $32 million rebuild to make Memorial a modern 12,000-seat venue that in theory might attract more events. But the new Memorial Stadium would still be largely off-limits to the members of the public unless they want to watch some games from the stands. That’s not green space, and it’s an inefficient use of taxpayer millions.
A county park on that same land would likely cost less than a stadium rebuild. The county owns the land Memorial Stadium sits on, the stadium is coming down either way, and for comparison, the county and Charlotte spent $11 million to develop Romare Bearden Park in uptown.
Mecklenburg leaders, however, fear the backlash that would come from veterans if the county tore down an historic Charlotte stadium that was built explicitly to honor in the honor. That’s why Memorial Stadium should be Memorial Park, and it’s why the county could and should commission a tribute to veterans that could be a showcase of the park. A Memorial Park would enhance the plans to redevelop Independence Park next to the stadium.
We asked Powell and board chair about using Memorial Stadium land for a county park. Dunlap said county residents would have access to Memorial Stadium, but demurred when asked if that meant they could walk in and use it on any given day. Powell, in an email, said: “I believe that public access is an important consideration, and I will be asking questions about how we can do that better at Memorial Stadium.”
We share Powell’s desire for more recreation and green space. A gleaming new stadium, just a couple miles from a bigger stadium in uptown, is not the best way to get there.