A Home Town Advantage

PRESENTATION TO ROTARY CLUB on 8/17/12

By Bill Gibson

Ladies and Gentlemen, those of us who are actively attempting to Save Hanes Park stand for certain civic virtues which, when achieved, give all the citizens and residents of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County a “Home TOWN Advantage.” The principle virtues are the following:

  • Ready access for adults and children from all socio-economic levels to public parks and the sunshine, fresh air, green-space and elbow-room an adequately spacious park can provide;
  • Meaningful academic and life-skills development for public school students, and certainly those students who attend Reynolds High School;
  • Safe and sane residential communities, especially those in urban neighborhoods, whose health contributes not only to the people who live there but also to the tax bases of the city and county;
  • Sensible, conservative management by public officials of taxpayer dollars; and
  • Open and thoughtful review of public projects, like athletic stadiums in urban areas, by public officials accountable to the electorate.

As you probably are aware, for many years now Reynolds High and Parkland High have shared a stadium holding more than 6,000 seats located on Clemmonsville Road.  When you consider the idea of building an additional stadium near Reynolds High School in order to give the Reynolds High Demons a “Home Field Advantage,” on first blush that might seem like a decent enough idea. The people who wish to build an athletic stadium on school property looming over Hanes Park are good people. But a small group of good people, acting without genuine consideration for their fellow citizens outside their immediate area of interest, sometimes come up with bad ideas. And that’s what this stadium proposal is all about – it would serve to cram a large, intrusive construction project into the wrong place, and at the wrong time.

It’s the wrong place for such a project. Several years ago, title to part of the tract given to the City by P.H. Hanes was conveyed to the school system. I respectfully submit, however,  that, from the psychological standpoint of the people who have enjoyed Hanes Park’s amenities for nearly 100 years — that “Hanes Park” includes the large open space directly east of Wiley Middle School and the nearby gymnasiums. A stadium like the one advocated for by [Mr. Cox]  is one whose footprint covers roughly that of a Wal-Mart, whose fences and walls rise more than thirty feet into the air, and whose parking requirements overwhelm the surrounding neighborhoods, including the very busy Central YMCA, not to mention the small businesses along Reynolda Road next to the park. And let’s not even get into the light, noise and trash pollution associated with entertainment venues. Folks, just as an inappropriate develop-ment within feet of your house would be harmful to your interests, this stadium would harm the interests of those thousands of people who genuinely connect with Hanes Park.

A stadium like the one proposed by the Boosters would ruin Hanes Park. The expansion of the tennis center and placement of that center into the hands of private management has constituted a material encroachment on the original vision of the  P.H. Hanes grant.  In more recent years there has been another encroachment — the “temporarily” fenced-in baseball field near the corner of Northwest Boulevard and Reynolda Road. So far, these encroachments have chopped up the park, but not quite so much that they have ruined it. However, the current stadium proposal would permanently chop up the Park beyond its tipping point.

The stadium proponents keep saying “Trust us.”  Those of us who question the project reply, “Prove it.” Isn’t it interesting that the proponents are fighting tooth-and-nail against the passage of a text amendment to the zoning ordinance that provides for review by elected officials of the parking requirements brought on by such a stadium? Ask yourself, What do the proponents have to fear from an open, thoughtful review?

It’s also the wrong time for the building of an additional football stadium in Winston-Salem. You might have noticed that we’ve not yet emerged from the most severe economic contraction since the Great Depression. You probably know that, with the exception of the most financially fortunate among us, most folks, especially those trying to raise a 21st-century family, are going through relatively tough times. One manifestation of those tough times is the continued persistence of public school class sizes that are simply too large to insure parents that their kids who want to get a good education can indeed get the education they truly need.

You folks might recall back in the 1980’s when President Ronald Reagan advised Americans to “Trust, but verify.”  Unfortunately, the stadium Boosters have refused to verify much of anything – the detailed site plans, the careful cost estimates to build the stadium, the cost to maintain and operate it, even the question whether or not they are willing to pay off the outstanding debt of more than $600,000 that remains after the renovation of Reynolds Auditorium.  We taxpayers have already seen what can happen when enthusiasm for an athletic stadium runs far ahead of the ability of the private promoters to pay for it. BB&T Field is a neat place, but don’t we have to acknowledge that the financial fiasco surrounding the promotion and construction of that edifice proved to be an enormous civic embarrassment?

The Boosters do an effective job of appealing to the emotions of people who want to raise school spirit at Reynolds High.  But part of a meaningful education that these students must learn is that, in the words of that English philosopher and Rolling Stone Mick Jagger, “You can’t always get what you want.” But I believe the Boosters and those of us who oppose their stadium project do agree on one thing: those Reynolds students deserve, again citing Mr. Jagger, to “Get what they need.” And what they need is a top-flight school house, not a nearby football field.

In closing, by all means take a thorough look at the stadium proponents’ website to see what they want you to believe. It’s an impressive looking affair, full of confident assurances,

even if it is sometime lacking in factual accuracy.  For example, the allegation that the School Board “has pledged their full support toward the stadium project” is simply not the case, unless that “pledge” was whispered in a back room someplace, but not in the hearing of the County Commissioners.

But be sure also to take a thorough look at the website “SaveHanesPark.com,” to see what else you ought to take under consideration.  In the interests of complete candorI have to admit that the statement still in our website suggesting that a 4,500 seat stadium “should require approx. 2,000 cars” may be somewhat misleading – we’ve recently learned from the City-County planning staff that no matter how many cars actually show up, for zoning purposes there must be “adequate off-street parking on the school site to meet a one space per four seat parking requirement.”  Where those 1,125 drivers would actually park their cars is a more troubling question.

In addition, go for a leisurely stroll throughout Hanes Park and take a look for yourself as to the real impact a stadium would have on this valuable civic asset. And try to find a place to park your car near the YMCA at 5:30 on a Friday night.

In conclusion, if you support the ideas of:

  • Ready access to spacious public parks for kids and grown-ups – including, Ms. Anderson, those 18-to-34 year-old downtown residents who our local employers are so eager to attract and retain;
  • Meaningful academic and life-skills development for public school students;
  • Safe and healthy residential communities, especially those in urban neighborhoods;
  • Sensible, conservative management by public officials of taxpayer dollars; and
  • Open and thoughtful review of public projects by public officials accountable to the electorate . . .

. . .  then you will probably come to realize that the proposal for a stadium overlooking Hanes Park may be a pipe-dream worthy of your sympathy, but it is not a reality worthy of your support.

Thank you for giving the two of us a chance to share our perspectives with you today.