By ARTHUR L. MACK
MOBILE — It will be a little while longer before Mobile City Council members vote on whether or not to give the University of South Alabama $10 million dollars as part of a Letter of Intent with the university to start the construction of an on-campus stadium.
By a 5-1 vote, councilmembers voted to hold over the vote for two weeks to allow a task force, headed by Councilman Fred Richardson, to study the pros and cons of giving the money to USA and also discuss the fate of Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Councilman John Williams cast the lone no vote, while Councilman C.J. Small was not present.
The task force is scheduled to meet on Monday, Aug. 6 at 2 p.m. on the ninth floor of Government Plaza.
Had the council voted to enter into a letter of intent the university would have given the city of Mobile $2.5 million dollars toward the repurposing of Ladd-Peebles Stadium, which would have been likely lead to the 70-year-old stadium being torn down and a smaller, 5,000-seat stadium for high school games built in its place.
Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson urged the city council to consider voting in favor of the letter of intent, saying giving USA $10 million would be a big win for the city of Mobile.
“When the doors of opportunity close, are we going to be on inside or the outside?” he asked. “A no vote will mean that the city is on the outside looking in. A no vote will be against an entity that for 55 years has complemented job growth. And a no vote will be against one of the best schools that we have for economic development.
“We will get a return from investing in this stadium. A yes vote ensures that USA will build a 25,000-seat stadium. A new stadium will bring economic development to this city. A yes vote will ensure that the city will secure the $2.5 million investment for the refurbishing of Ladd. Your vote on this issue is one of the most important votes that you will have over the last four years. This vote will give us one of the best opportunities this city has ever had. I sincerely hope that you vote yes so that this window of opportunity won’t close.”
There were concerns from speakers on both sides of the issue.
Josh Gulsby, for example, was concerned that failure of the council to give the $10 million to USA would ultimately spell the end of having the Senior Bowl in Mobile.
“If Mobile does not take advantage of this opportunity, then there’s a chance that other cities will bid on getting the Senior Bowl,” he said. “The NFL is under no obligation to wait on South Alabama to build a stadium.”
Meanwhile, Ann Davis, chairman of the Ladd-Peebles Stadium Board, said a recent engineering study that only came to light after the proposal was made for the $10 million to be given to the university, prompted her to have questions about the entire issue.
“We still don’t have all the facts,” she said. “We were blindsided by the engineering study. When we asked for information from the city about it, we received no answer. We would love to talk with the person who is in charge of the Senior Bowl about this. Ladd is better located as far as the revitalization of downtown, and the entire way this was handled was wrong.”