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ten best:alternative uses for the Winston-Salem downtown ballpark

by Brian Clarey

Convert to Olympic stadium and make bid to host 2020 Olympics

Winston-Salem would have to vie for the 2020 summer Olympic games against the likes of Boston, Minneapolis and Birmingham, not to mention more than a dozen other international cities, but the city’s leadership should think big. Let’s not have a failure of imagination here, people. The outer shell of the stadium is already partially constructed. Since it appears no more work is going to be done on the stadium this year, the city should just buy the facility back from Dash owner Billy Prim and finish the job itself. But the Beijing Olympics will be a tough act to follow. The 2008 Games set a high bar for stadium design. Beijing National Stadium, also known as the “Bird’s Nest,” was a marvelous structure with a whimsical design. Costing a reported $423 million, it is the world’ s largest steel structure. So how would the city raise $423 million? Simple, just ask Reynolds American’s top executives to donate their annual bonuses to the cause. That should easily cover the cost of the stadium. And Joe Camel could be the Olympic mascot!

A water/ski park

Why should Winston-Salem lose all its summer tourism dollars to Carowinds or Wet ‘n Wild Emerald Pointe? For that matter, why do avid skiers have to trek 100 miles west to Boone to indulge their favorite pastime? The downtown ballpark could easily be converted into a combination water park and ski facility to entertain kids of all ages. If you stand at the corner of Brookstown Avenue and 1 st Street, you’ll see there’s about a 40- to 50-foot drop from the northernmost edge of the property to the stadium floor — the right parameters for a bobsled track and ski jump. The city should model the design after Utah Olympic Park. Then, consider making a bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics. If that seems far too ambitious, a water slide is always an option.

The best Little League baseball stadium in the country

Can you imagine area Little Leaguers playing in a top-notch professional arena? What a thrill! Of course, you’d have to make the necessary adjustments to meet Little League Baseball field dimensions just like they did when the Bad News Bears played in the Houston Astrodome in the classic film Breaking Training, but that’s easily accomplished. Taking the $5 million from the sale of Ernie Shore Stadium and loaning it to Billy Prim didn’t work out so well. How about we try giving the taxpayers something tangible for their contribution by investing in parks and recreation? Also, the city could bid to become a regional site for the Little League World Series, and perhaps one day, replace Williamsport, Pa. as the home of the annual championship.

High school football stadium

Think about this: Take the current field configuration and make it into a rectangle — 120 yards long and 53-1/3 yards wide. Add two more banks of stadium lights, close in the north end of the field and you’ve got yourself “Friday Night Lights” in North Carolina. Basketball has long reigned supreme in the Tar Heel State, but there is a long tradition of football excellence that is often overlooked. If North Carolinians hope to see UNC, NC State, Wake Forest, Duke and East Carolina compete against football programs from Texas, Florida and California, they must invest in high school football. It’s no coincidence that Texas, Florida and California have hosted some of the highest-attended games in high school football history; and the Longhorns, Gators and USC routinely win the national championship. Also, the city could host a high school football jamboree every August by inviting 10 area schools to go head-to-head in preseason scrimmages to kickoff football season. The Wilmington event, hosted by BB&T, regularly draws 11,000 fans with all proceeds going to the participating schools.

Farmer’s market

When Wal-Mart began selling organic milk and yogurt in its stores, it became clear the move to organic, locally grown food had become mainstream. By all accounts, the popularity of farmer’s markets has skyrocketed in recent years. Consumers are better informed about the distance their fruits and vegetables must travel via gas-guzzling 18-wheelers to reach their tables, and the resulting impact on global warming. Currently, the city holds its downtown farmer’s market on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. I find that puzzling since most farmer’s markets are held on weekends to accommodate the schedules of working folks. In any event, this could potentially be one of the largest farmer’s markets in the South. It could be open seven days a week, and offer financial incentives to local farmers and ranchers to keep the family farm going.

Motocross dirt track

Imagine this: motorcycles flying 100 feet in the air, visible to all passersby on Business 40 during the American Motorcyclist Association’s national championships. The great thing about converting the downtown ballpark into a motocross dirt track is the relative ease of the operation. There’s a dirt floor already in place. In the span of 24 hours, the facility could be ready to host its first motocross event. Also, monster truck events are a popular draw in this area. Imagine an outdoor monster truck event. Awesome!

Professional soccer stadium

Soccer is the sport of the future and Major League Soccer needs another franchise in its Eastern Division to help balance out the league. Currently, there are seven teams in the East and eight teams in the West. Also, the league does not have a franchise in the southeastern US. Winston-Salem can be the pioneer in bringing the world’s most popular sport to North Carolina. Several years ago, I attended a Carolina Courage game at SAS Park in Cary before the Women United Soccer Association folded. I was amazed at the talent and ability of these athletes. It takes a while to appreciate the nuances of the game, but eventually area residents could be won over. Just imagine David Beckham coming to Winston-Salem and the excitement that would generate. Also, Winston-Salem would have no competition for soccer fans. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Amphitheater

Despite the global recession, big acts like Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, AC/DC, Snoop Dogg and the Jonas Brothers are drawing huge crowds with their current tours. The downtown ballpark as it’s currently configured would be a perfect amphitheater. With the huge outfield and its capacity to hold tens of thousands of spectators, the venue could attract one of the many summer music festivals that evoke the feeling of Woodstock.

Municipal golf course

“Hey Smayles, a thousand bucks you slice it into the woods!” Rodney Dangerfield exclaimed in the 1980s classic comedy Caddyshack. One of the first steps in converting the downtown ballpark into a municipal golf course would be to erect one of those giant green screens to catch all the errant shots and slices into “the woods” or risk the possibility of shattered windshields of cars traveling down Business 40. Large cities, such as Los Angeles, have a number of golf courses adjacent to major freeways. The use of these five-story high backdrops cuts down on the possibility of unfortunate accidents

Community garden

If the city of Winston-Salem really wishes to give something back to its residents, planting a community organic garden would be a fantastic use for the downtown ballpark. Residents who don’t own homes with backyards could rent plots of land for a nominal fee and raise their own vegetables. This would be a huge step toward sustainability and making the city more ecofriendly.

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