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W-W-R-D – What Would Roberts Do? Mayor Winnecke Toughs Out A Decision about Roberts Stadium

By Jay Zimmer

Nearly a decade has passed since erstwhile City Councilman Steve Bagbey first asked, “What are we to do with Roberts Stadium?”  The question had merit.  The facility was approaching the half-centennial, and was fraught with problems both intense and expensive.  Not the least of these was a leaky roof and a floor that frequently flooded because of a shallow water table, one which often outstripped the ability of heavy pumps to keep clear.

In addition, Bagbey and others noticed that many of the “big shows” were bypassing Roberts for larger, better equipped venues with a much greater seating capacity.  A study by an outside company determined that the proper thing for Evansville to do – should it desire to become a Mecca for show business’ “big acts,” was to either repair and expand Roberts Stadium, or abandon the facility and build new – presumably downtown.

Repair of Roberts quickly became a pariah despite strong pressure from the facility’s advocates, who wished to preserve the rich history of the building.  Those advocates claimed, figuratively, that the voices of such entertainers as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, the Beach Boys, Neil Diamond and many others remained in those walls.

But those voices and those of their advocates in real time could not sway other voices, who determined that expanding and fixing the old – which had undergone a multimillion dollar facelift only a decade ago – simply wasn’t feasible.

With a collective display of pecuniary prestidigitation, the City of Evansville became home to the new downtown Ford Center, specifically built to replace the aging Roberts, and the

Latter facility went dark and idle.

Now… what to do with it.

Before he took office, Mayor Lloyd Winnecke formed a task force to give the old joint one more good hard look, with instructions to make recommendations as to its future – if any.  A week after assuming office, Winnecke asked that the committee deal its cards.

The mayor drew the last card – demolish the old place and find a new use for a considerable parcel of land in a very favorable location in the city.

The mayor’s hand wasn’t a winning one, at least in the eyes of many advocates of Roberts Stadium.  And others, who revered, or at least liked the place, for its charm, for its imperfections, and for its history.

Winnecke hadn’t been in office long – just a bit over five months – when, after sifting through alternatives presented by his task force, with input from the public, he made the decision to send in the wrecking ball.  He’ll make another when he decides what is to be done with the land.

Politically expedient?  Probably not.  Yet it’s a demonstration that the new mayor, still proverbially wet behind the years, can hunker down, and make the tough calls.

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