Elvis is back in the house — April 13

02ElvisAs a young man enthusiastic and well entrenched in my first real career after leaving the Army and going to work with Fasco Industries, I (Bill Bowman) was oblivious to the fact that the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll was performing a concert in what is now the old Cumberland County Arena. That was in 1976. It would be another 12 years before I realized the significance of that musically historic visit.

Elvis Presley was live and in person here in Fayetteville, North Carolina. By all accounts, his performance was grand. However, his visit here was pleasantly unusual and unique in several respects.

The first concert was Aug. 3, 1976. It was a sold-out event. Presley was impressed that Fayetteville was the home of Fort Bragg, and he wanted to do something special to honor the military while also thanking Fayetteville fans for their enthusiastic reception. He requested to do two additional shows on successive days.

Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, agreed. All three performances, Aug. 3-5, sold out, according to Paul Beard, who was the Arena operations manager at the time.

What many fans did not realize was that all three performances were recorded. Graceland Records released a three-disk CD pack titled “Next Stop: Fayetteville.” It was sold with a 44-page booklet of rare photos of Elvis onstage here in Fayetteville. You can find it on You Tube.

In the video, you can feel the energy and hear the excitement of 6,000 screaming fans. News reports at the time said Elvis and his entire entourage rented the top floor of what once was the Ramada Inn hotel on Eastern Boulevard.

Elvis’ enthusiastic reception and three days of sold-out performances, complete with live recordings of his music, were such a success that Parker scheduled a return to  Aug. 25, 1977.

Unfortunately, he never did return. Elvis died of a heart attack at his home in Graceland Aug. 6, 1977, at the age of 42. Local fans were saddened, shocked and disappointed. Anticipating what was expected to be another stellar, sold-out concert, fans had purchased tickets for $12.50 and $15. The

Arena offered refunds but also provided the option to donate the ticket money to a local charity. Hundreds of ticket holders chose the latter. Their names were placed on a plaque honoring Elvis and put on permanent display in the hallway of the Arena, along with several photos of Elvis’ past performances. Those photos and other memorabilia remained on the wall as a memorial to Elvis for many years — until 2008, when the Arena underwent a significant renovation.

During this period, Beard, while serving as the facility manager under then-general manager Rick Reno, noticed something. During the interior renovation project, the Elvis photos and mementos had been removed from the wall and placed in a receptacle along with other construction debris. Fearing they would be mistakenly discarded as trash, the quick-thinking Beard, who is an Elvis fan, removed the framed photos and plaques and safely packed them   away in a Tupperware crate. He stored them in his backyard shed. Beard knew the Elvis memorabilia represented one of the greatest performances ever staged in Fayetteville.

These treasures remained in Beard’s shed for more than a decade — until Fayetteville Observer senior columnist Bill Kirby received several inquiries about what ever happened to the Elvis pictures.

Beard, who is a Fayetteville resident and the general manager of the Florence, South Carolina, Civic Center, graciously dug them out and turned them over to the Crown Coliseum Complex. Elvis is now back in the house. Well, not quite. The Crown board of directors haven’t yet figured out what to do with the newly recovered treasures. However, what we do know is there is much public interest in seeing these mementos.

So, to this end, Up & Coming Weekly asked the Coliseum board to loan us the pieces for one day — April 13. We will have them on display for public viewing at our office during the Fayetteville Fans First Look at the new Segra Stadium, where the Fayetteville Woodpeckers will host their first game April 18. Our office is only about a 5-minute walk from the stadium. 

The Elvis Presley photo display will be in Gallery 208 at 208 Rowan St., Up & Coming Weekly’s corporate offices. Hours are 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. Both Fayetteville Observer former Arena manager Paul Beard will be on hand during the day to personally share their experiences and walk us down memory lane. Rocket Fizz Soda Pop & Candy Shop will also be present with Elvis signs, posters, refreshments, free gift coupons and assorted souvenirs.

A very special thanks to Kirby for his excellent Fayetteville Observer reporting and coverage of this story. And, to Beard for his insight, professionalism and quick action that salvaged a part of Fayetteville’s musical history. And many thanks to my colleague, Up & Coming Weekly’s senior reporter, and my friend, Jeff Thompson, who assisted me with this article.

And, of course, to our readers: Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

Parking for ballgames

07Parking Sign 2The question is, will Fayetteville Woodpeckers baseball fans know how to get to the new ballpark? “We will absolutely be ready for our first home baseball game on April 18,” said city of Fayetteville spokesman Kevin Arata. 

He was asked by Up & Coming Weekly about plans the city has to accommodate public parking during games at the baseball stadium on Hay Street. “For the April 13th ribbon-cutting event, parking downtown will be free, as with most other past large events downtown,” he said. 

“Finding public parking is difficult for visitors,” consultant Jon Martens told Fayetteville City Council during the Feb. 4 council work session. He added that making the public aware of available parking is a major challenge that must be undertaken by city government. Martens said many people he spoke with didn’t know there’s a parking garage on Franklin Street — within walking distance of the stadium. 

For families who don’t know their way around downtown, Martens suggested pole signs with recognizable logos could be used to locate off-street parking lots. The city has the capability of building signs, but at this point they are not in the plan, according to Arata. 

The city is depending on social media to help visitors find parking lots. Parking locations can be found on the city’s website, Arata said, and by downloading the city of Fayetteville mobile app and clicking “downtown parking” on the menu. 

“In a nutshell, we know what we have to do for instituting the parking changes recommended. We just need to figure out the specifics of how to do it,” said Arata. 

City government has received responses “from firms with expertise in this area to address the suggestions received from our consultant on the recent parking study,” Arata added. He said city staff wants to hear how those in the know can provide implementation plans and costs associated with those plans. 

City Council will eventually make decisions about parking needs. “I believe the city is prepared to meet the parking demand that will be created by the new stadium,” Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin said. “There are always areas that cannot be fully anticipated, but I have the utmost confidence in our staff to address any issues that may arise.” 

The Cool Spring Downtown District and the Fayetteville Area System of Transit suggested trollies to shuttle visitors downtown. City traffic engineer Lee Jernigan also liked the idea of shuttle buses. 

“Park-and-ride shuttles from areas beyond the immediate center city could be adopted,” Jernigan said in October 2018. He stated that additional considerations, such as providing convenient parking for the disabled, “would be available in a month or two.” They were not. 

“I do have concerns for the elderly and handicapped,” District 2 Fayetteville City Councilman Dan Culliton said at the Feb. 4 council work session. 

At the same meeting, council members opposed the shuttle trollies and turned down the proposal. Members said they didn’t want to spend tax money for a project that should be offered by private business. 

The city is spending $40 million to build the minor league stadium. 

Fayetteville Woodpeckers fans, the wait is almost over

01coverUAC040319001Anticipation for the return of baseball to Fayetteville has been steadily building for more than a year. That wait is finally coming to an end. As announced last November, the team has a name: The Fayetteville Woodpeckers. As of this month, they’ve got a place to play: the brand-new Segra Stadium in downtown Fayetteville. And in the coming weeks, they’ve got two big kick-off events: A chance to check out the new stadium April 13, followed by the Woodpeckers’ first home game April 18. Get ready for a shift in this community that’s something to cheer about — and maybe celebrate with a hot dog and cold beverage. 

Fayetteville Fans First Look: Saturday, April 13 

The public is invited to explore downtown’s new $40 million Segra Stadium at a free unveiling and ribbon-cutting event, dubbed Fayetteville Fans First Look, from noon-3 p.m. The stadium features natural grass, a 360-degree concourse, a 25-by-70-foot LED scoreboard, six luxury suites, four field boxes, a premium club level, an outdoor party deck, a kids zone and a seating capacity of 4,700. 

The city of Fayetteville, owner of the ballpark, collaborated with the Woodpeckers to create and organize this event. “We are the lead (on this event), just as the Woodpeckers are the lead for the opening game,” said Kevin Arata, communications director for the city of Fayetteville. 

“We want to show off this great new stadium that we’ve built. We’ll have volunteers from around the city in place to point people in the directions of where they can go and what they can see.” 

Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin will kick things off at noon with a ribbon-cutting followed by brief remarks. 

Then, Arata said, attendees will be able to go into the batting cages and locker and equipment rooms, along with the concession areas, the outfield bar, the kids zone, the clubhouse area and more. 

“For those of us, like myself, who are not clubhouse ticket-holders or box ticket-holders, this will be a chance to get up in those areas and see them firsthand,” he said. “This will be a looksee that people won’t otherwise get. It’s not often that you get to go into the locker room of a minor league baseball stadium.” 

Mark Zarthar, president of the Woodpeckers, described the Fayetteville Fans First Look as an open house of sorts. Visitors will get to sample a variety of food and beverage options that will be offered at the ballpark on game days, too, he said. 

“Our right field bar is our most prominent concession area; it’s called Healy’s,” Zarthar said. “We’ll have a variety of food and beverages out there, including 24 different draft beers on tap, as well as corn hole, foosball and big-screen TVs. We’ll have a stage with live music and lounge furniture. That’s going to be the coolest party area at the ballpark. It will be open on game days as well as some non-game days.” 

He described left field as being the family- and kid-friendly area. Along the first baseline and third baseline will be the rest of the concession options. “We will have a home plate bar that focuses on a variety of craft beer,” he said. “We will also have ... options such as barbecue, burgers and Mexican, and a variety of other cuisines.” 

The Woodpeckers drew upon local inspiration in creating themes for and naming the different food areas. For example, the station behind home plate is called 82nd and Hay. Sherwood Steaks is named after Sherwood H. Hallman, a World War II veteran who received a Medal of Honor. “He’s an example of someone who is relevant to Fort Bragg,” Zarthar said. 

The right field bar, Healy’s, is named for John “Mac” Healy, local owner of Healy Wholesale Company. “(Healy Wholesale Company) played a prominent role in our stadium being developed and bringing to life the beer concept at the ballpark,” Zarthar said. 

The Fayetteville Woodpeckers retail store will also debut at the First Look. Zarthar said it is one of the largest stores of its kind in minor league baseball, based on square footage. “You’ll be able to purchase merchandise as well as tickets at the Fans First Look,” he said. “There will be a variety of hat concepts, replica jerseys, T-shirts, golf polos, fishing shirts — anything you can imagine, we will have.” 

First Woodpeckers home game: Thursday, April 18 

At 7 p.m., Thursday, April 18, the sun will begin to set — but downtown Fayetteville will be lit up with bright stadium lights and filled with fans ready to cheer their team on. The Fayetteville Woodpeckers will take on the Carolina Mudcats for their first home game of the season. 

The Fayetteville Woodpeckers are the Class A Advanced minor league affiliate of the Houston Astros, the 2017 major league baseball World Series champion. The Woodpeckers spent their last two seasons playing as the Buies Creek Astros in Campbell University’s Jim Perry Stadium, and their transition to Fayetteville brings professional baseball back to town for the first time in 17 years. 

The last minor league baseball presence here was the South Atlantic League’s Cape Fear Crocs, which moved to Lakewood, New Jersey, following the 2000 season. 

The Woodpeckers’ new moniker was chosen by Fayetteville citizens via a “Name the Team” contest launched in April 2017 that was followed by an invitation to vote on a favorite out of the top five entries. The Woodpeckers beat out the other top four name suggestions: Fatbacks, Fly Traps, Jumpers and Wood Dogs. 

And now that the Woodpeckers are here, they’re here to stay. The Astros signed a 30-year lease, indicating their investment in the long-term success of Fayetteville. “We are here; we’re committed,” said Zarthar. “It’s not necessarily just about baseball. It’s about providing a shot in the arm for downtown Fayetteville.” 

Said Fayetteville City Councilman William “Bill” Crisp, “(In) 30 years, we can expect the Astros to be interwoven into the fabric of Fayetteville’s economic development.” 

March 20, the team announced details of its official team charity, the Fayetteville Woodpeckers Fund, and its associated Fayetteville Community Leaders Program. The FCLP, functioning at the core of the charity fund, will help guide the team’s investment of time, energy and resources in the areas of supporting local youth sports and military service members and their families. 

Fayetteville Woodpeckers Fund plans involve investing more than $100,000 into the community this season. Projects include replacing the Massey Hill Buddy Baseball Program field, which was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew; sponsoring 15 youth baseball and softball teams across all seven Fayetteville Parks and Recreation youth sports zones; and partnering with the military nonprofit Rick’s Place to, among other things, send 50 military children to summer camp. 

“The Astros are a very successful major league baseball business,” Crisp said. “However, when you examine how they mesh in communities where they have minor league teams, you will find they are not solely about making money, but they give back to the communities. 

“They could have imported someone to head their community relations, but they hired a local lady, Victoria Huggins. (She) is local, and I remind you she was/is Miss North Carolina for last year.” 

“The other thing to point out,” said Arata, “is there are only 70 home games across the entire year. The rest of those days, (the stadium) is open for other events. The opportunities for what you can do in the stadium are kind of endless.” 

He added that the stadium’s and the Fayetteville Woodpeckers’ presence have already acted as an incentive for other businesses and entities to invest in this community. He listed the decision of private investor Jordan Jones to revive the historic but previously dilapidated Prince Charles Hotel as a prime example. 

Ticket prices to Fayetteville Woodpeckers games start at $9, which Arata pointed out is comparable to the cost of a movie ticket. “This is about involving all of the community,” Zarthar said. “We wanted to … ensure that as many people can afford to attend a game as possible.” 

Zarthar suggested that fans follow the Woodpeckers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to stay up to date and involved. Visit www.fayettevillewoodpeckers.com for a full 2019-20 schedule, to purchase tickets and to learn more. 

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