Snail’s pace for WSSU purchase of Bowman Gray
Council members approved a resolution in May 2013 recommending that the city sell the stadium to Winston-Salem State, City Manager Lee Garrity said, but the sale can’t take place until the N.C. Department of Administration State Property Office makes an offer on WSSU’s behalf.
The city’s $7.1 million asking price is what is required to recover its debt for the construction of the WSSU football field house and improvements the city has made to the facility over the past 10-15 years, Garrity said. Both the city and the university are in agreement about the mutual benefits of the sale of the property, which has been appraised at roughly $9 million, he added.
“We’re ready to sell it,” the city manager stated. “…We’re waiting for an offer.”
That offer has yet to surface.
Although some have questioned why the city and university haven’t found some end roads to circumvent the red tape, Garrity said any transaction with the state-owned institution would require prior approval.
“Even a lease with Winston-Salem State requires the state to approve it,” he stated. “…We couldn’t even give it to the university without state approval.”
The property, which includes the stadium and the adjacent Civitan Park, presents many factors to consider, according to WSSU Associate Vice Chancellor of Facilities Management Owen Cooks, and its sale requires the cooperation of several different state agencies, which is part of the reason for the grinding process.
“It’s a pretty large, complex deal,” he stated. “…It’s 94 acres and a lot of moving pieces, a lot of facilities.”
Cooks said the process is moving in the right direction.
“There are still some more hurdles we’ve got to go through,” he said. “From what I’ve heard from the folks in Raleigh, we’re expecting an offer very soon, but I think you’re looking at least a couple of months to get the offer processed.”
State Sen. Earline Parmon said she had expected the deal to be finalized by now, but noted that “the wheels of bureaucracy sometimes turn very slowly.”
“Dealing with the bureaucracy of the state, sometimes there are delays, but we feel pretty confident that it’s going to happen,” she said. “There’s no reason that it shouldn’t.”
The WSSU alumna said local legislators on both sides of the aisle are united in their stance on the issue.
“All of us are very supportive and we’re going to work hard to make sure it happens,” she said. “The full delegation is behind Winston-Salem State being able to purchase it from the city.”
Cooks says being able to expand the campus to include the stadium, where the WSSU Football team plays its home games, will be well worth the time it takes to make the purchase happen.
“It’s really a key acquisition for our master plan,” he noted. “…We’ve put a lot of money into it, so getting control of that is pretty important to us.”
The university has already begun incorporating the stadium into its activities, tapping it for the upcoming 2014 commencement ceremony and taking over operational roles for the city. Although some race fans had expressed concerns about the facility changing hands, fearing that the sale could impact races at Bowman Gray, which is hailed as “NASCAR’s longest running weekly racetrack,” both Cooks and Garrity said that those issues have been addressed by provisions that are included in the bill of sale, and WSSU’s stated commitment to keeping the racetrack’s programming intact.
“It has not been a fast process, but we’ve been trying to make it as smooth as possible, to make sure everybody’s needs are accommodated,” Cooks said.
State Rep. Ed Hanes said constituents across his district have voiced support for the sale, with many questioning why it hadn’t happened long before now.
“I think the overwhelming feeling across the district is that Winston-Salem State should have that stadium and in fact should have had a stadium a long time ago,” he said. “It makes no sense that they don’t have the stadium – that’s been the overwhelming sense – because the stadium sits right at the university, they play at it already, and it doesn’t make any sense that they don’t have it.”
Last May, the City Council also approved the sale of Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum to Wake Forest University, a private school with brimming coffers, for $8 million. That sale was completed soon after it was given the green-light.