Mobile City Council to vote on University of South Alabama stadium

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After a “task force” meeting on Monday, the Mobile City Council still seems poised to vote Aug. 14 on a proposal to help fund a USA Stadium. But in a fresh twist, that vote now seems to be linked to a companion measure that hasn’t seen daylight yet.

Going in, the task force — essentially an ad hoc committee chaired by Councilman Fred Richardson — was portrayed as a chance for council members to air out any concerns, complaints or possible changes in the terms of a letter of intent proposed in late June by Mayor Sandy Stimpson. Under the terms of that agreement, the city pledges to commit $10 million to the University of South Alabama over the course of 20 years, to help pay off the debt it plans to incur in building an on-campus stadium.

It also calls for USA to give the city a $2.5 million lump payment, once the new stadium is operational, to help redevelop Ladd-Peebles Stadium, the city facility it has been using. That arrangement has been seen by some as evidence of a city plan to tear down Ladd-Peebles, depriving the Maysville community of a landmark and the major events it hosts.

As Richardson led the task force through a clause-by-clause review of the letter of intent, members did ask for some changes. For the most part, USA representatives were amenable. For example, the council wanted a reference to the “renovation and repurposing” of Ladd-Peebles changed to delete the “repurposing” and leave it to “renovation.” USA representatives did not seem opposed.

More of a sticking point was another suggestion from Councilman Levon Manzie. The letter of intent specifies that three bowl games — the Senior Bowl, the Dollar General Bowl and the Gulf Coast Challenge — can be held rent-free at the new stadium but will have to pay operating expenses. The letter says the same arrangement will apply to any other “city events” that USA and the city agree to hold at the stadium.

However, Manzie suggested that if the city is chipping in to help pay for the stadium, it should get a better deal than the bowl games. He asked if USA would be willing to waive operating expenses for such city events.

“We can take that under consideration. Quite frankly I’m not sure that we’re willing to go there,” said USA President Tony Waldrop.

“That’s good to know,” said Manzie.

As the general discussion progressed, this much was clear: When the letter of intent comes up for a vote on Aug. 14 — a vote that’s already been postponed more than a month — it’ll feature some changes. They may or may not include some compromise on the arrangements for any hypothetical future city events to be held at USA’s hypothetical future stadium.

The real revelation on Monday was Manzie’s announcement that the council’s vote on the letter of intent is now linked to some sort of companion measure addressing the future of Ladd-Peebles and the surrounding community.

Richardson said there were some council members who “believe that some sort of resolution should be reached on Ladd before they vote. And it is our understanding that there is an effort toward reeling that in and giving us something definitive regarding the future of Ladd.”

“We are working on an initiative that hopefully will provide some firm and definitive answers as it relates to not only Ladd but to the impacted communities,” said Manzie. “We’re still working toward that end and as soon as we can make some substantive process I’m going to make certain everybody is updated.”

“It’s certainly not anything I’m at liberty to discuss now,” said Manzie, steering the discussion back to the letter of intent.

Speaking after the meeting, Manzie said the purpose of the new measure was to spell out the city’s commitment to Ladd-Peebles Stadium and the neighborhoods around it. He said his goal was to present the measure to the council on Aug. 14, if not sooner. He said that in his mind, a vote on the letter of intent couldn’t happen without concurrent consideration of the new initiative.

“They are of mutual interest to me,” he said. “If one doesn’t work, the other doesn’t work.”

“As quickly as we can get a draft out, we’ll get a draft out,” he said. Manzie said that discussions on the new proposal had involved himself, the mayor’s office, and council members C.J. Small, Gina Gregory and Joel Daves.

“I think we’re going to get there,” he said. “We’re working as a team.”

Republished with the permission of the Associated Press.

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