Opinion Columns & Blogs

Ideas wanted for stadium

York County and the Charlotte Knights are like a married couple that want to divorce but can't afford separate households.

Anticipating the day when the AAA franchise moves back to the Queen City, officials are beginning to talk about what to do with the 10,000-seat stadium when it reverts to the county. One County Council member has indicated interest in selling the 32-acre complex, saying it would bring a pretty penny.

No doubt the county will inherit some valuable real estate once Charlotte leaders work out a complicated land swap and the Knights build a new park downtown.

In years past, some local folks envisioned using the stadium for the public good. One proposal was for the YMCA to operate it, but that was before a new "Y" was built in Fort Mill's Baxter Village. Nevertheless, the question remains: Why put a major public asset on the block before other uses are considered?

York County isn't likely to acquire property with greater potential. Situated a few miles from one of the hottest urban centers in the country and surrounded by acres of paving and existing roads, Knights Stadium is a gem.

Sure, it could be leveled to make room for another office complex, filled with white-collar workers who commute from Charlotte, taking their pay and sales taxes back to North Carolina each day.

Another approach would be to solicit ideas for alternative uses. The county could seek out the best urban planners and design teams in America for proposals on remaking Knights Stadium.

Public input would be necessary, of course, but The Herald and other media would publicize what could be an exercise in participatory democracy. All viewpoints should be represented -- rich, poor, black, white, from all sides of the county. No idea should be dismissed out of hand.

For example, when I look at Knights Stadium, I see a venue for bluegrass concerts. All that would be needed is to extend a roof over part of the infield and to erect a stage.

If the stage were temporary, the setting also could be used for horse shows and other events.

The county could deflate the argument that it was competing with the private sector by hosting events that Carowinds and other promoters never book.

Any why not move the York County Visitors and Convention Bureau offices to Knights Stadium? The county is desperate for office space. There's no more appropriate place to house its tourism arm than next to an interstate highway.

With acres of available parking, the stadium could serve as a central location for tour groups and individual visitors alike. Attractions such as Historic Brattonsville, the planned Museum of Life and the Environment and the Catawba Reservation would benefit from a full-fledged visitors center.

Two growing sectors of that industry, heritage and environmental tourism, have much potential for York County. Plans already are underway to connect this area to a network of hiking trials stretching from Charlotte to the Catawba River. The stadium could house vendors that capitalize on that market -- canoe or kayak rentals, for example. And it would be a grand place for interactive displays featuring American Revolution sites throughout both states.

The parking lot would make a fantastic flea market on weekends, but why not a farmers market featuring Carolinas foodstuffs? The state Department of Agriculture is spending a lot of money to promote sales of South Carolina produce. With growing interest in healthy eating, a farmers market at the stadium could become a Mecca for the food-conscious.

Gaffney has its Peachoid, but wouldn't it be neat if the "baseball" water tower were repainted as the biggest strawberry in South Carolina?

A similar case could be made for a regional market for arts and crafts produced in the region. Such a center already exists in Walterboro, but surely the state has enough creative people to support another.

Those are a few top-of-the head notions. Other Herald readers probably have better ideas.

Or the county could just take the predictable approach: Sell the stadium to the highest bidder, so we end up with another amorphous complex of sterile buildings, filled with stuff imported from China.

Ho, hum...

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