Local Community Development Corporations

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lawrence Joel For Sale?

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Maryland-Eastern Shore, seeded 10th in this week's MEAC Tournament, put on a gritty display in tripping up Florida A&M in a double-overtime nail-biter.

It's too bad next to no one was there to see it.

Attendance for opening night at the MEAC (men's bracket) on Tuesday evening was generously estimated at 800. With some 15,000 seats in Joel Memorial Coliseum and at least 100 of those players for other teams, it seemed less.

Opening night of a tournament featuring 22 men's and women's teams from six states and the District of Columbia sure didn't feel like the tip-off to the economic windfall. But it's early yet.

"Tuesdays and Wednesdays are always light days for any tournament," said Dennis Thomas, the MEAC commissioner. "It's hard for people to take a week off from work. It'll pick up Thursday and Friday."

Kicking the tires

Wandering around the coliseum on opening night of the MEAC was a little strange. Less than a month ago, news circulated that the city was considering slapping a "for sale" sign on the old barn.

The likely buyer — the only possible buyer really — is little old Wake Forest, right down University Parkway.

City Manager Lee Garrity, a prudent, close-to-the-vest type, dismissed the talk as mostly an academic exercise. The city routinely explores all its financial options, and discussions about the sales of assets such as the Joel and Bowman Gray Stadium are simply part of that geometry.

Because the city loses some $850,000 a year on the stadiums and spends an additional $1.5 millionannually servicing the debt incurred to build and overhaul them, it at least makes sense to shop them around.

It also makes sense for Wake Forest to kick the tires some, too.

The school snapped up Ernie Shore Stadium a few years back and is involved with helping to build a new tennis center nearby, and the overhauled BB&T Field is the Wrigley Field of college football.

An empire is in the making. A coliseum would be just the thing to cap it off.

"I don't know that the city wants to get rid of the buildings," Garrity said last month. "It's just is this 'new normal,' where our economy is so tough, is there a way to reduce our costs?"

Down the road

Despite a slow opening night, signs that things were picking up appeared yesterday in the form of more out-of-town license plates in hotel parking lots.

Merchants eager for some ka-ching are waiting and hoping to grab their slices of the financial pie. Official estimates set the trickle-down at $3 million annually for hotels, restaurants and the like for this one week.

If the coliseum sells, though, what happens to events such as the MEAC Tournament and monster-truck rallies?

The guess here is that they'd be no more. It's hard enough to imagine the Demon Deacons sharing space with Gravedigger, much less allowing the MEAC to take over the home floor for a week.

"We couldn't say until we know where those conversations were going," Martha Wheelock, an assistant city manager, said Wednesday. "We would honor all existing contracts and (scheduling outside events) would be part of the discussion if there were some sort of transition."


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