‘Not a bad seat in here.’ Look inside Charlotte’s new, $40.5 million Memorial Stadium

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Mecklenburg County on Wednesday unveiled its $40.5 million American Legion Memorial Stadium that’s set to host its first event in just two weeks.

The venue is entirely new — not a makeover of its historic namesake stadium that was razed on the same site due to age-related structural issues.

The new American Legion Memorial Stadium, seen on Wednesday, June 23, 2021, will debut July 7 with a pro soccer match between the Charlotte Independence and and New York Red Bulls II. Fireworks will follow the match.
The new American Legion Memorial Stadium, seen on Wednesday, June 23, 2021, will debut July 7 with a pro soccer match between the Charlotte Independence and and New York Red Bulls II. Fireworks will follow the match.

Fireworks will follow the July 7 pro soccer match between the Charlotte Independence and New York Red Bulls II, county officials said during a stadium media tour.

After that, the Independence will play the rest of its home USL Championship schedule there, moving from the Mecklenburg County-owned Sportsplex at Matthews.

Shaped like a bowl, the 10,500-capacity Memorial Stadium features pro sports-quality artificial turf, 9,500 fixed seats, a view of the uptown Charlotte skyline and a pedestrian tunnel that connects to Little Sugar Creek Greenway, Independence Park and the Elizabeth neighborhood.

The stadium concourse is level with the streets outside and the entrances to Central Piedmont Community College parking decks, where fans can park if stadium surface spaces are filled. The main entrance to the stadium is on Charlottetowne Avenue.

Officials anticipate fans also using CATS light rail and Charlotte’s streetcar to get to the stadium, said Jay Higginbotham, Mecklenburg County’s lead project manager for the design and construction of the stadium.

The county held a ceremonial groundbreaking for the new venue in September 2019. It’s on the site of its namesake stadium built in 1936, parts of which had become structurally unsound, project officials reiterated on Wednesday.

The new, $40.5 million American Legion Memorial Stadium still offers a great view of the uptown skyline on Wednesday, June 23, 2021 in Charlotte, N.C.
The new, $40.5 million American Legion Memorial Stadium still offers a great view of the uptown skyline on Wednesday, June 23, 2021 in Charlotte, N.C.

Stadium bowl design

Because the new stadium is a bowl, “there’s not a bad seat in here,” Victor Jones Jr., a principal of Charlotte-based Jenkins Peer Architects, told The Charlotte Observer at the stadium. His firm led the stadium design team.

The field, or “pitch” in soccer lingo, is 21 feet below the concourse. Trees, including elm, black gum, maple and Southern magnolias, line the concourse, so the sun won’t be as intense on fans in the seating bowl compared with gargantuan U.S. stadiums, Mecklenburg Park and Recreation Director W. Lee Jones said.

The Independence expects to triple its attendance, said Jim McPhilliamy, team president and managing partner.

“It’s a great community asset and something we can all be proud of,” McPhilliamy told the Observer.

Independence games are the only stadium events announced so far by the county.

Fans at the old Memorial Stadium watched high school and college football games for decades, including the Shrine Bowl. The stadium also hosted concerts by such major performers as Jimmy Buffett and Pearl Jam.

The Carolina Lightnin’, Charlotte’s original pro soccer team, played its American Soccer League games at the old stadium in 1981-83, winning the championship in 1981 in front of more than 20,000 fans.

The Charlotte Hounds, a pro lacrosse team, played the last sporting event at the old stadium, on June 23, 2018, McPhilliamy told the Observer. He also also headed the Hounds before the lacrosse league took control of all of its teams and made it a touring league.

FIFA-certified turf

While no other events have been scheduled, county officials said the stadium can easily accommodate concerts, high school and college football, rugby and lacrosse again.

The stadium turf is certified by FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, Higginbotham said.

Concert managers can haul in more restrooms to the site to accommodate up to 15,000 fans, officials said.

The stadium includes several types of seating, including just under 2,000 premium mid-point seats with cup holders. Most of the other seating is aluminum bleachers with no backs. Another tier is bleachers with backs.

The stadium also has 104 VIP overlook seats and 60 VIP field-level sideline seats.

Preserving history

The county, meanwhile, maintained the site’s historic landmark designation by replicating the original architectural design with the stadium’s 100%-recycled original stone field wall, replicated ticket booths and concrete walls at the top of the seating bowl, officials said.

Boulders from beneath the original stadium now adorn the exterior of the new one. Children can climb and play on them.

Extensive art work honoring World War I veterans appears both in and outside of the stadium. A memorial designed by artists Simon Donovan and Ben Olmstead includes sculptural relief walls depicting WWI heroes, and a sculptural relief of the American flag.

President Franklin Roosevelt spoke at the stadium’s opening in September 1936. The stadium was part of Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration public works program to lift the nation from the Great Depression..

“For me, standing here, I feel like a part of history, because this is where Roosevelt was,” Jones, the Park and Rec director said.

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