Senate approves sale of Bowman Gray Stadium to WSSU

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(WINSTON-SALEM JOURNAL) — The N.C. Senate voted 102-10 Thursday to approve the sale of Bowman Gray Stadium to Winston-Salem State University.

State Rep. Ed Hanes, D-Forsyth, announced the Senate’s vote earlier Thursday. The sale is included in the UNC Capital Improvement Projects measure.

The university plans to buy the stadium and surrounding land from the city of Winston-Salem for $7.1 million, including debt repayment. The university would use the land for future expansion, and would continue to play football games at the stadium. In addition, Winston-Salem Speedway Inc. would continue to stage NASCAR races at the stadium.

The bill was given tentative approval by the General Assembly on Wednesday. The bill now awaits the governor’s signature.

Winston-Salem State Chancellor Donald Reaves said in a statement Thursday that he and other university officials are pleased with the Senate’s action.

“We are also tremendously thankful for the support that we have received from so many friends of the university over the last two years as we sought to acquire the stadium and the 94 acres of land adjacent to the campus,” Reaves said. “This property is crucial to the future growth and development of Winston Salem State University.”

Reaves thanked the members of the Forsyth County delegation to the General Assembly “for their willingness to listen to our story, to believe in what we are trying to achieve, and to advance the interest of the university through the legislative process.”

He also thanked Richard Childress, owner of Richard Childress Racing in NASCAR, and Dale Pinilis, one of the principals of Winston-Salem Speedway, which does business as Bowman Gray Racing, for their support.

City Manager Lee Garrity said that the Senate action is good news for the Winston-Salem community.

“WSSU, the race promoters, and our representatives in the General Assembly worked together to package a final deal,” Garrity said. “That is truly a win-win.”

Gray Garrison, a management official with Winston-Salem Speedway, said he wasn’t surprised by the Senate vote.

“I know everyone worked real hard to get this resolved,” Garrison said. “I’m glad it finally worked out for everyone.”

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

Earlier this week, state Rep. Debra Conrad, R-Forsyth, said that some legislators met with officials of Winston-Salem Speedway, Winston-Salem State, Mayor Allen Joines and state Rep. Donny Lambeth to address the concerns of stock car racing advocates, Conrad said.

The project must receive final approval by the Winston-Salem City Council and the N.C. Council of State, city and university officials say.

“We pledge the very best efforts of the university to insure that Bowman Gray Stadium remains the jewel that it is in our community,” Reaves said.

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