Martinez

Downtown arena? They can't see it

CorrespondentOctober 19, 2011 

Now and then the responses to this column are so enlightening that I'm compelled to share them. Last week I suggested that Raleigh Mayor-elect Nancy McFarlane take on a bold project: building a new downtown arena to replace the suburban RBC Center.

The most pointed response came from Perry Woods, a political adviser to the newly elected mayor. He called it the limit-McFarlane-to-one-term plan. What a pessimist

My research told me N.C. State University and its supporters had been opposed to the arena being built downtown. However, the passion behind the downtown opposition was driven home to me by Connor Williams Jr. of Wake County. He wrote:

"The last place I'd ever want to see a new arena would be in downtown Raleigh. You want to totally kill State basketball attendance, which is already hurting? Where would we park an extra 5 to 10 thousand automobiles? ... I wanted a smaller facility, maybe 15,000 or so, to be built on the Wolfpack campus, where it should've been put in the first place.

"And if there's a replacement for the current facility, it belongs on the school campus, NOT in downtown Raleigh. I understand why Reynolds couldn't be expanded. But as a lifetime seat holder for Wolfpack basketball, I can assure you I would never have bought those two seats there had this arena been built downtown."

Williams concludes, "I just don't get it why so many people believe the universe revolves around downtown Raleigh."

The universe doesn't revolve around downtown, but I think great cities do. If Raleigh is ever to have a vibrant downtown after 5 p.m., it must have a major sports draw.

Grady Crumpler chided me for challenging the mayor-to-be and Raleigh civic leaders to "go big" and think beyond boring projects.

"Raleigh's success has not been with home runs or 65 yard bombs, nor with small ball or 3 yards and a cloud of dust. We've had lots of medium-size victories - City Market, the downtown amphitheater, Glenwood South, Meymandi & Fletcher auditoriums, Fayetteville St. reopening... - that collectively have added up to more than the sum of the parts.

"While our new Convention Center is not a threat to the Astrodome, it is functional as well as aesthetically pleasing. Plus, it has an outstanding piece of public art in the Shimmer Wall. I think the Shimmer Wall represents Raleigh better than a new arena would. While I agree that a downtown arena would be great for Raleigh in the long run, I think we should continue with our 'medium-size' successes while we build the infrastructure for such an arena."

Leave it to Grady to inject practicality into the debate. However, Clyde Holt said home runs are exactly what downtown Raleigh needs.

"There is no major league baseball franchise between Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. Summer baseball would not compete with the Carolina Panthers, the Hurricanes, nor ACC football and basketball in drawing fans. The Triangle is projected to double in population by 2025. If area political leaders, area institutions, area businesses pull together, funds can be raised to build a major league baseball stadium!

"The RBC Center is the area's best example of 'regionalism,' how we can achieve anything if we co-operate and pull together. If Raleigh had a credible plan in place to construct a stadium a few years ago when the Montreal Expos folded, the franchise would be playing in downtown Raleigh now - not southeast D.C."

The Grady Crumpler in me says baseball is way too big a bite for Raleigh and the Triangle. Still, I dropped a pretty penny in Washington this year watching the Nationals and I'll spend even more next season. Too bad those dollars won't be spent in downtown Raleigh.

Lastly, in my column advocating that North Carolina get rid of the death penalty, I wrongly cited the N.C. Medical Society as challenging the legal requirement that a physician be present at an execution. Mike Edwards of the Medical Society reminded me it was the N.C. Medical Board that objected.

Contributing columnist Rick Martinez ( rickjmartinez2@gmail.com) is news director at WPTF, NC News Network and SGRToday.com

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