Stadium ADA Funding Gets Council Approval

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A City Council committee approved spending $12 million on ADA compliance at Liberty Bowl Stadium after being warned that if nothing was done the U.S. Justice Department might "shut the stadium down."

"Not only could they shut the stadium down, they could hold the whole fairgrounds hostage" said Housing and Community Development director Robert Lipscomb. He said that meant forcing the city to make everything at the fairgrounds ADA compliant, but he did not say what will be allowed to be out of compliance.

The 61,000-seat stadium, which is rarely even half full in recent years, added more wheelchair-accessible seats and companion seats a few years ago but not enough to satisfy the Justice Department. The letter of the law would be one percent accessible seating, or 620 seats and 620 companion seats, but the department typically settles for less. Lipscomb said the city bargained with Justice to lower the cost from $40 million to $12 million, which includes some non-seating expenses. A handout said the reduction was due to "new technology and alternate design solutions." There will be 564 ADA/companion seats. The maximum projected loss of seats is 2,000.

If the full council approves the expenditure as expected, construction will be done between January and August of 2013. Lipscomb said projected new taxes from a proposed Tourism Development Zone (TDZ) to include Cooper-Young and Overton Square would pay the bills. The council will be asked to vote on the TDZ on January 22, 2013. If approved, the city will apply to the state in February and expects to get approval in June. The vision is a youth sports complex.

Committee members asked few questions about the project. Some said they had a "moral obligation" to vote for the proposal. Three people in wheelchairs came to the meeting but did not speak. Interviewed after the meeting, they each said the current wheelchair-accessible seating is inadequate, but they also each said they do not go to games at the stadium.

"There are a lot of people who are not trying to come," said Louis Patrick. "This is one of those questions of if they build it will they come."

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