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Benton Panthers leaving C.W. Lewis Stadium; controversy abounds

By: 24 August 2010 14 Comments

The vote is in — the Benton Panthers will leave the stadium they’ve called home since 1934.

Yes, this is the last season the Panthers will play in C.W. Lewis Stadium. The Benton School Board, last week, voted 4-3 to build a $10.8 million stadium in the Benton Athletic Complex — a facility that will certainly be dandy and is located closer to the high school.

For the record, I’m not a bit happy about this decision. While I well understand the need for a new stadium, I can’t help but feel a sense of loss. A lot of us grew up heading downtown to watch the Panthers play on Friday nights and we’ve chosen to abandon that history in favor of something shiny and new.

On the other hand, there is a good argument for moving the stadium closer to the school and, well, there are times when forming new traditions is a good idea.

I’ll not hash through the arguments again as that’s been done to death and people more articulate than I am have thrown around the pros and cons on both sides of the issue. It’s odd a decision has been made that will thwart ongoing efforts to revitalize downtown Benton, but that’s kind of our fault — C.W. Lewis stadium is an anchor for that area, but we’ve not exactly pushed too hard to make sure there’s something for people to do downtown after games.

What is obnoxious about this whole thing is just the way it was done. We’ve seen this kind of thing time and time again, really. A few people wanted a new stadium and were less than forthcoming with the public in their efforts to get it.

First, the project was labeled as a “progressive” move for the town and those against it were labeled as being opponents of progress and, in some instances, not giving a hoot about what was good “for the children.”

That’s all to be expected, of course. Another move that was expected was how the notion of improving the existing C.W. Lewis Stadium was treated. Yes, the School Board agreed to look at the cost of renovating the aging stadium and the results clearly reflected the desires of people who wanted a new facility in the aforementioned Athletic Complex.

It should surprise no one that those cost estimates placed the renovation cost of C.W. Lewis at around $15 million — considerably more expensive than building a new stadium. Renovation, according to those estimates, was defined as completely tearing down the present stadium and building a new one in its place.

In other words, to save C.W. Lewis, it was necessary to destroy it completely and build something else. It’s no wonder, then, the so-called renovation project would cost more than building a new facility. Clearly, that solution was unacceptable to anyone wanting to preserve C.W. Lewis and that was by design.

The notion that the current stadium is just too far gone to be saved is ridiculous. If the stadium is in such rotten shape, why then are some renovations planned so it can continue as a facility where some vaguely defined events will be hosted in the future?

The answers simple enough — the School District favored a new stadium and was hell bent on doing anything it could to convince the public that it was absolutely necessary. That ploy appears to have worked.

When the District resorted to the “we’ve got to tear it down to save it” tactic as a way to shut up those nasty opponent to progress, one has to wonder — how strong were their arguments for the necessity of a new stadium in the first place? Apparently, having public officials who prefer to deal honestly with the public instead of manipulating numbers and nursing hidden agendas is too much to ask.

That’s a damned shame.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.

14 Comments »

  • Bryan said:

    Revitalize downtown Benton? Nothing happening there. I’ve lived here for several years and haven’t had a reason to go to the stadium nor many reasons to go downtown at all. Benton is a bedroom community for Little Rock. People don’t even want to live “in” Benton proper, they want to live north of the interstate and closer to LR. I’ll continue working in LR, eating out in LR, shopping in LR, and sleeping in Benton.

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Odd. Why on earth do you live here at all? Sounds like You could save yourself that commute by simply moving to Little Rock, so why bother with this little bedroom community?

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