Proposed upgrades and additions to Memorial Stadium.

Memorial Stadium Will Finally Regain Neighborhood Running Track

If the existing track hadn’t been removed, there would be no controversy over “adding it.”

Proposed upgrades and additions to Memorial Stadium.

The longstanding controversy over the design of Memorial Stadium has finally reached a resolution, with City Council’s approval of funds to redesign the recently renovated property to include a six-lane running track.

Memorial Stadium was, for nearly a century, the site of pick-up ball games of all sorts, in the heart of the East End/Valley Street neighborhood. The winning football team of Stephens-Lee, Asheville’s historic Black high school, played there in the days of segregation.

At a public hearing about the track, a number of Black Asheville natives were forced to challenge feel-good stories about the current stadium. The community’s frustration at the prevalence of false narratives, and the loss of Black history, was palpable.

Local resident Paul Howell, during his time at the microphone, asked, “How many remember Valley Street? Upper Eagle and Lower Eagle? My point is that every time the city comes in to ‘fix something up’ they kick us out. And in kicking us out they sorely remove any trace of our being there.”

He recalled Memorial Stadium in the 1970s: “We got to play sandlot without permission, or needing reservations. Now we have youth soccer leagues that have to go out to Deaverview Road to practice! This new stadium field shouldn’t be a place where kids have to check in to go play.”

One opponent of the addition of a running track was Frank Ballentine, a White Asheville resident. After expressing that he sympathized with people “who have memories of high school football games,” he asserted that “Those memories are still being made at the new stadium, including a track, at Asheville High. Games are still being played, history being made over there.”

Kimberly Collins, a native of Asheville who moved from the Stumptown community of Montford to the East End, responded, “I know about history. East End is now under horrific gentrification. What you have done suits only one segment of Asheville’s community.”

Recalling the segregated school system, she pointed out, “That new stadium at Asheville High was for White people. Memorial Stadium was for Stephens-Lee, our football team. It is the pride of East End. Yet you allowed people from FIFA—not from our community—to come in, tear up the track that was in existence there … this is a replacement track for what was already there.”

She pointed out that if the existing track hadn’t been removed, there would be no controversy over “adding it.” It would simply have been repaired and replaced, as the community wished.

Mr. Ballentine also asserted that, at a public discussion session held at Stephens-Lee Community Center, several plans were offered, and “the design that gained the greatest support was for a field without a track, and City Council should respect that community input.”

President Renée White of the East End-Valley Street Neighborhood Association took issue with that claim of community support.

“We wouldn’t be here today if you had done the right thing in 2018 and 2019,” she said. In email conversations between City Council and community leaders, she pointed out that the track had been talked about for at least three years, and also noted, “We were told there were going to be two proposals at Stephens-Lee, but only one proposal was taken over to Stephens-Lee.”

In emphasizing the ongoing gentrification of the entire East End area, White pointed out that not only are Black people being pushed out through unaffordable prices, but that many of the new residents who have been moving in, are dismissive and disrespectful of long-time members of the community.

“You brought in the Bluegrass Festival and treated us disrespectfully. White people wanting to play soccer [come to our neighborhood and] treat us disrespectfully. Peeing in people’s yards! Throwing beer cans and old coolers in our property. I don’t think you’d like us coming into your neighborhoods treating you that way.”

After City Council heard the frustration, anger, and resentment voiced by the Black community over their long-time, ongoing, unacceptable treatment at the hands of newcomers and gentrifiers, there was, it seemed, no other response than to correct their numerous mistakes and misjudgments of previous years.

Ultimately, Councilwoman Antanette Mosley introduced a resolution to include a six-lane track, as per the design alternative, in order to restore what had been removed; it passed unanimously. And while the soccer field at Memorial Stadium will still meet FIFA standards, the slightly smaller field will not allow for some international tournament games—to the chagrin of some professional-soccer advocates.

It will, however, allow for long-time Asheville natives, and their descendants, to enjoy the use of Memorial Stadium as a beloved community facility that has been too long neglected. It will, in short, finally achieve redress for the continuing “urban removal” Asheville’s Black residents have faced for generations.


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