Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Coliseum Follies

Coliseum follies
By Leon Loeb
Saturday, September 5, 2009 (published in the Corpus Christi Caller/Times)

Frustrated by the overreaching redevelopment proposals for Memorial Coliseum and the breathtaking lack of competence, discretion, and moral compass that brought them to us, I was ready to join the chorus for demolition.
Then a friend reminded me of some history: While World War II was fresh in their minds, our parents and grandparents erected buildings all over this nation and called them war memorials. They built them with the expectation that the sacrifices of family, friends, and neighbors would be forever honored.
They didn’t expect their descendants to demolish and replace these memorial structures with apartments and shopping centers. Is it moral for this generation to demolish the building, deal off the site for private development and create a “new memorial” from the old plaque? Absolutely not.
Another friend recalled that we had done a lot of listening to the public involvement in the bayfront master plan, the downtown redevelopment committee, the Coliseum committee, and my South Wharf proposal.
The Coliseum committee’s concept, developed after listening to citizens, is consistent with everything else we heard: We want a place that feels like it’s “ours.” We want a place on our bayfront where we can have a school dance, a craft show, a wedding, or quinceañera. We want a café, a shop, a drink stand, and some nice restrooms near McGee Beach. We want shade. We want a recreation center. We want to learn more about the wars in which our neighbors have fought and died. We want free parking. We want a facility which is public and maintains the memorial
character of the site. In other words, we want something like Memorial Coliseum once was, and a little bit more.
How did we get from that simple concept to mammoth, heavily subsidized, private ventures that take over public space?
The Coliseum committee concept included a few small tenants and concessionaires paying rent. It is a huge leap from there to building apartments on McCaughan Park. Even asking the question of the city’s legal department shows a lack of comprehension or willingness to dismiss the politics of our public spaces that’s
astonishing. Time and again this skirmish has been fought. The people of Corpus Christi do not want public spaces used for private development. Can’t our leaders understand, abandon the “public-
private partnership” dream, and move on?
Common sense says razing Memorial Coliseum won’t be cheap or fast. There is a lot of concrete underground, and thousands of citizens believe that the structure is important for memorial, architectural, or even sentimental reasons. Given the millions of dollars it will cost to clear the site, and the inevitable delay,
disharmony and legal cost of any attempt, working with the existing building seems both economical and expedient.
Can we afford to have the public facility we want? We can afford the Nueces County Fairgrounds, Whataburger Field, and American Bank Center. My conclusions? Commercial development of the Memorial Coliseum site should be permanently off the table. It is
the wrong thing to do. Besides, our city government can’t handle the process. Learn to live with and honor the Coliseum; it is the path of political feasibility. Execute the bayfront master plan and the concept developed by the Coliseum committee. That is what the community has said it wants. How difficult can it be?

Below: An email I sent to Mr. Loeb:

Dear Mr. Loeb,
I read your piece concerning the future of the coliseum the other day and I congratulate you on writing the best thing on the subject I have yet to read. I think you hit the nail on the head.
So far the developers, the mayor and several council members have only shown interest in maximizing the redevelopment of the area and have favored these large, elaborate plans which are promising more bay front clutter, diminished views of the bay, more loss of
green space and public parks and a total disregard for the purpose and history of the building.
Like it or not the Memorial Coliseum is a local landmark and many have special memories of events there. World War II, and those who died in the service of their country, should be remembered and not allowed to just slide into the oblivion of ancient history.
The public has an interest, a paramount interest I feel, in what happens to the city's most important attractions, that is the bay and the Padre Island and Mustang Island beaches.
Though labeled as "aginners" and other choice epithets, people who are opposed to the many over reaching development plans, to use your very appropriate words, are not necessarily opposed to all development but to the kind of development which alters the character of the city and would deny public access.
I hope everyone in the city, and especially the city government, will read your piece and consider the wisdom and correctness of your position on this issue and I certainly endorse the sentiments you so ably expressed.
Best wishes and thanks,

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