Addressing reporters in the newly reconstructed American Legion Memorial Stadium during a media preview on Tuesday, June 23, Charlotte Independence and Charlotte Hounds managing partner Jim McPhilliamy recalled that the last game either of his teams played there happened exactly three years earlier: a home loss by the Hounds on June 23, 2018.
McPhilliamy laughed off the coincidence, but said he’s excited to get back in action during opening night at the new and improved Memorial Stadium with the Independence on July 7, “and hopefully we won’t have that same result, we’ll have a win.”
Tuesday served as a first look at the $40.5-million stadium, located on top of the original site where the stadium opened in 1936 and stood for 82 years, bordered by North Kings Drive, East 7th Street, Charlottetowne Avenue and CPCC’s Central campus in the Elizabeth neighborhood.
The nearly 10-acre site can hold 10,500 people for sporting events, including 104 VIP Overlook seats, 60 VIP field-level sideline seats, and 1,600 mid-field club-members’ seats.
The field, measuring 225 by 360 feet, was built to accommodate professional and amateur soccer, high school and college football, rugby and lacrosse, though designers promised Tuesday it will also host concerts and events — potentially even the Battle of the Bands, which left Charlotte altogether after the stadium closed in 2018.
Architects and designers worked to preserve the feel of the original stadium, said Victor Jones, principal with Jenkins Peer Architects, pointing out that each and every stone in the wall surrounding the playing field was reused from the thick stone walls at the original venue.
The team also kept the “sweeping curve” on the wall separating the field from the bleachers, despite a perfect rectangle being the most “efficient” stadium design, Jones said.
“In the end the idea was, you come in here and it’s like, ‘Yeah, this is Memorial Stadium,’ and it couldn’t be anywhere else,” he added.
One part of preserving the feel meant making sure fans still have a great look at the Charlotte skyline, which played into everything from the height of the scoreboard to the design of the exterior art.
A sculptural relief wall facing Charlottetowne Avenue depicts icons and heroes of war representing all five branches of the military as recognized by the American Legion. When viewed from straight ahead, the relief becomes transparent, allowing incoming fans and passersby to keep their view of the skyline and the interior of the stadium.
The wall was created by artists Simon Donovan and Ben Olmstead using metal blades to create the changing face of the wall.
“That’s going to be a destination art piece,” said Jones.
Designers also worked to make the field inviting to players, using BrockFILL under the turf, a significantly cooler infill than crumb rubber that does not require watering.
“It doesn’t give off heat or toxins, and it bounces truer than the rubberized pellets that you see in a lot of places,” McPhilliamy said. “We’ll water the field beforehand to cool it down, and it will stick. It will be really nice.”
Moving forward he hopes to see the type of response the Charlotte Knights saw when they moved into Uptown from Rock Hill, tripling their average attendance. He admitted that the arrival of Major League Soccer will have an impact on his team’s fanbase, however.
Regardless, McPhilliamy expects to see a sell-out game when the Independence take on the New York Red Bulls II on July 7, and he already has his seat picked out.
“I went down and sat in my seat and I loved it,” he said. “It’s just a great view, there’s not a bad seat in the whole place. Victor and the Peer people did a great job maintaining the historic elements for it but making it a modern-day venue.”
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