City Council talks Legion Stadium ownership
by Emily Adams
SYLACAUGA – The City Council decided at a Monday work session to continue talks with the Sylacauga City and Talladega County boards of education about ownership changes to the city-owned Legion Stadium.

The city has long expressed a desire to have the property out of its name, citing insurance and funding issues, but no agreement has been reached, in large part because the stadium is used by both Sylacauga and B.B. Comer high schools. One is a city school, the other part of the county schools system.

However, SHS Athletic Director Matt Griffith told the council safety has become the primary concern.

“To me, it’s a historical landmark that needs some type of renovation, because if it was fixed up it could be as nice as any stadium anybody else has,” he said. “It’s about money, and I don’t know what to do…We have two schools that use a stadium that is falling apart, so I have major concerns about what are we going to do about the stadium for these two schools.”

Mayor Doug Murphree agreed money is an issue and said he does not have an answer.

“We’ve talked about a ticket tax, but that would accumulate so slow,” Murphree said. “We had structural engineers in two or three years ago, and the main part of the structure is OK, but it’s going to need mothballing before long to make sure it doesn’t deteriorate anymore. And that press box is deplorable. A lot of things have got to be done.”

Councilman Joe Hogan said he would support deeding the 65-year-old stadium to Sylacauga City Schools as long as a joint-use agreement is reached.

“We should give consideration to B.B. Comer and their students and athletes, but we represent Sylacauga, pure and simple,” Hogan said.

Councilman Tom Roberts suggested Griffith and B.B. Comer head football coach Anthony Jacks formulate a plan to present to the three entities involved. Griffith said they could do that, but it would place Jacks in a no-win position.

“It’s a tough situation,” Griffith said. “I’ve always said B.B. Comer could sign a lease to use the stadium and pay the exact amount they’re paying now, and their life would never change. Would they like that? Absolutely not, but you’re getting a warped view from me because I understand both sides. If I’m the head football coach at B.B. Comer or I was raised at B.B. Comer, I don’t want to lose my stadium.”

Councilman Billy Carden asked if it was feasible for the schools to have joint ownership, and Griffith said the problem with that is “there’s about half a million dollars that’s been spent by Sylacauga since 1994 that would have to be made up by Talladega County.”

Ken Brewer of Sylacauga Today interjected to say Avondale Mills provided the majority of stadium maintenance on behalf of B.B. Comer from the 1930s until at least 1977.

“To say that they haven’t contributed to the maintenance of the stadium over the years, I don’t think that would be fair to the Avondale employees, the Comer family or to B.B. Comer,” he said.

Griffith agreed and said there was a time when coaching staffs held joint work days and had a shared relationship, but that has changed over time.

“I don’t know why that happened, I was not here, but over the last 15 to 20 years, there’s been a slow move to ‘Sylacauga take care of it all and just send us the bill,’” Griffith said. “I’m not saying its right or wrong; that’s just what it’s evolved into. We send them a utility bill, and that’s it. When Talladega County came and cut those eaves off (in October 2012), that’s the first time I’ve seen any maintenance that’s not Sylacauga City Schools in eight years.”

Council President Rocky Lucas said several property deeds, including the stadium, are ready to be transferred from the city to Sylacauga BOE, but they first need to see if Sylacauga is interested in the stadium. City Clerk Patricia Carden said it is her understanding the BOE is ready to accept the stadium deed.

“It’s not that simple,” Murphree said.

“Why is it not that simple?” Hogan said.

“Because you’ve got the county involved,” Murphree replied. “You let them put it in the paper that you’re going to give it to Sylacauga and see what happens. I promise you.”

Griffith said the question is whether Talladega County BOE is ready to split repair costs between the city and city BOE.

“And if they’re not, then where do we go?” he said. “Are we just going to let the thing fall in because either we don’t want to hurt Sylacauga’s feelings or B.B. Comer’s feelings, and then somebody breaks their neck because a piece of concrete falls? It’s happened. That whole piece of concrete from the women’s bathroom fell. We’re just two or three years away from somebody getting hurt.”

Lucas said the city needs to hear from both sides in the near future. Griffith advised that the ownership topic has been “committee-d to death” over the years with little progress.

“I will say this, and I can be quoted – that stadium was built for two schools,” Griffith said. “Whether ownership changes or not, there will be an agreement reached so both schools can use that stadium.”

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© 2013