Stephen Murphree
WAR MEMORIAL STADIUM: Let her go!

I received an unhappy e-mail this morning over the state’s decision to pump $900,000 more into War Memorial Stadium in hopes we’ll be favored now and again with a Razorback football game. (Missouri is coming in 2021!)

This brings state investment in recent times to $2.8 million, but there were previous state infusions in the millions.

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I’ve said my piece before. The Razorbacks should play in Fayetteville. War Memorial should be — if not demolished — downsized to a high school and general recreational use (track and field, anyone? soccer?) with dramatically reduced seating. Those high school championship games would be a lot more exciting in a 20,000-seat stadium, instead of 8,000 or so rattling around in a big bowl.

Old men still dream of the day when two or three weekends of Razorback football were a multi-part and glorious Little Rock fall event, with Delta planters prominent among the big shots in the best seats. That was before game time was set on a whim by TV; before TV started draining the increasingly expensive seats of fans; before the financial power shifted to Northwest Arkansas; before a $200 million (counting interest charges) stadium expansion in Fayetteville. The few Razorback games in Little Rock in recent years have been marked by empty seats and crowds that came and went quickly. Hotels and restaurants weren’t full to bursting with out-of-town fans. Shopping malls were already dying beyond the ability of a Razorback game every two years to resuscitate. It’s easier to shop Amazon than drive around Little Rock on Saturday. And Little Rock no longer holds a lock on big-box retailers to lure visitors. They’re everywhere.

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Gov. Asa Hutchinson has bowed to nostalgia for a past that isn’t coming back. So his agencies keep pumping money into a dinosaur. His curious passion requires that Hog Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek play along through 2024. (Who knows? The prospect of a UA-ASU game someday now seems less remote and might propel War Memorial dreaming still further.)

Will Little Rock (or the state) get $2.8 million worth of benefit when Missouri rolls into town after police overtime and other costs in 2021? Will the UA reap benefits from the added costs of playing in Little Rock that day and the Fayetteville revenue lost (presuming a winning team can fill Razorback Stadium again)?

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At least we won’t have to repair the golf course. Mayor Frank Scott Jr. closed it.

PS: I was inspired by this note from Carrick Patterson, who said I could quote him. He raised an important point about dumping money into a football stadium from a source once dedicated to culture and heritage.

I know it’s D-Day, but in these days of schools cutting out the arts and music, UALR dropping arts and music stuff, popular golf courses for the common man being closed (and nothing else done with the site) and general malaise of the cultural milieu, is War Memorial Stadium really the best recipient of a $900,000 cultural grant from the state?

War Memorial is these days just a venue for high school games. But everyone keeps imagining it’s the old days when the Razorbacks played there and national TV came to cover the games. They’re trying to keep the stadium at that level. To me there’s no sense in it. Most of the time it’s just a parking lot for employees of the state Health Department.

Tear the thing down and forget about it. Stop living in the past. As long as it’s hanging around there, people are going to keep thinking the glory Razorback days will return.

They won’t.

PS: I am reminded that the stadium upgrades were a condition of the UA continuing to schedule a game in Little Rock. Hutchinson supported the investment at a time when Sen. Bart Hester was ranting about state support for the stadium.

On D-Day, it is probably worth mentioning that the stadium is a memorial to Arkansans who died defending the country. It was dedicated in 1948 by former Razorback and Medal of Honor recipient Maurice “Footsie” Britt. The Hogs beat Abilene Christian that day 40-6.

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