Bowman Gray Stadium decision expected by end of week

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(WINSTON-SALEM JOURNAL) — The sale of Bowman Gray Stadium to Winston-Salem State University appears to be back on track, according to local legislators.

Last Thursday, the House Finance Committee stripped the project from a bill allowing improvements to institutions in the UNC system. That action came after former Forsyth County state Rep. Dale Folwell, long an opponent of the sale, spoke against it in a committee hearing, saying it would jeopardize the future of auto racing at the stadium.

The university is trying to buy the stadium and surrounding land from the city of Winston-Salem for $7.1 million to give it room to expand. The school has said that auto racing would continue at the stadium.

But Folwell and others raised concerns about what might happen to racing in the long term if the sale goes through.

On Tuesday, state Rep. Debra Conrad said the bill was on the calendar for the House to vote on and she expected the House and Senate to go into conference on the bill after the vote. The House bill does not include the sale of the stadium, but Conrad said she will try to put stadium back in the bill during conference.

“There were some unresolved issues and once the Finance Committee took it out, we had a meeting with the Winston-Salem Speedway people, WSSU, the mayor, Rep. Donny Lambeth and other members of delegations and added additional language to address the concerns of stockcar racing individuals,” Conrad said.

“We feel we’ve addressed all the remaining concerns now. I guess you could say Folwell sort of did us a favor,” she said. “He gave us time to become directly engaged with the racing people without City Council members involved.”

Conrad said the concessions were not related to the university but were to address the concerns of Winston-Salem Speedway Inc.

Lambeth elaborated on some of the changes made to the legislation. “We added six additional items, for example, the name of the stadium would not change, fees would not be charged for parking and no decrease in parking spaces allocated to the stadium, were incorporated into the conference report,” he said.

He said he expected SB 480 to have its second and third reading Wednesday and Thursday. “I expect approvals to be done by end of week before we adjourn,” he said.

Gray Garrison of Winston-Salem Speedway Inc., which has NASCAR races at the stadium, said he was happy with the concessions made. “We worked very closely with WSSU on the issues and we’ve had a very, very good rapport with each other,” Garrison said.

“We support the sale of the stadium to WSSU. I think everybody is doing the best-faith efforts they can to make this happen, so we’re very pleased with everything that’s happened so far.”

Cornelius Graves, director of government and community relations at WSSU, said the school was remaining hopeful. “At this point the university is going to let the legislative process work its way out and hopefully we’re able to get Bowman Gray and the surrounding land,” Graves said.

“We’re hopeful that it works out positively for Winston-Salem State. The changes are really just to secure racing, if anything just strengthen the security that Winston-Salem Speedway has, and the owner-tenant relationship.”