December 31, 2017

A Big Idea For 2018: Wake Forest Should Buy The W-S Fairgrounds

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The Wake Forest Demon Deacons defeated Texas A&M in a thriller of a football game Friday. As entertaining as the game was, I still find it hard to understand why universities participate in football.

Afterall, the science is very clear. It’s a dangerous game that puts football players at risk for all types of bodily injuries and long-term brain damage. Ironically, Wake Forest has produced numerous studies in recent years that have added to our understanding of the intrinsic dangers of playing football.

For a frank conversation on the state of football, listen to former 49ers linebacker Chris Borland. Borland retired from the NFL in 2014 at age 24 due to health concerns. Borland is an important voice in the NFL/concussion debate.

The more football that a player is exposed to the greater risk of suffering concussions and ultimately CTE. The 107 point, 4-hour marathon game that Wake and A&M played Friday a worse case scenario for so-called “student-athletes.” Higher scores come from more plays, more plays equal more hits, and more hits means more injuries, including brain injuries.

But evidence be damned! Football is a game that fans and alumni enjoy. It’s as American as foreign invasions. Fundamentally, football is about what’s best for the administrators running universities.

It’s about increasing admissions applications and alumni donations. I’d like to see colleges find new ways to draw attention to themselves. Perhaps they could throw bundles of cash from helicopters to their undergraduates instead of showering millions on coaches and administrators. That would differentiate Wake from other schools.

Wake Forest playing Texas A&M was an improbable bowl matchup that gives us a chance to compare the two schools: a small, private school versus a massive state university deep in the state of Texas. The schools couldn’t be more different.

Wake has a total undergraduate enrollment of 4,955, and a campus composed of a mere 340 acres (U.S. News & World Report). According to Barstool Sports, “Wake Forest’s campus is the size of about eight Kyle Fields.”

Texas A&M, is located 17 hours to the southwest of Winston by car in central Texas. It is many times larger than Wake. With a total undergraduate enrollment of 50,735 and a 5,200-acre campus, Texas A&M is in a whole different league than Wake.

Though Wake won yesterday’s game at Bank of America Stadium, it should look to imitate A&M. Wake should consider dramatically expanding its campus.

In recent years Wake Forest has increased its presence in Downtown Winston. But that’s not enough, it could do more. Wake should consider dramatically building a new campus adjacent to its football and basketball stadiums on Deacon Boulevard.

Wake should buy the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds from the City of Winston-Salem. They could incorporate the fairgrounds with all the property that they currently own on Deacon Blvd.

They could also add several former R.J. Reynolds’ properties in the area such as Whitaker Park and Reynolds Buildings 2.1 and 2.2. The two little-noticed properties on Reynolds Boulevard were recently added to the National Register of Historic Places. They have Innovation Quarter-like potential.

Dramatically expanding Wake’s campus along Deacon Blvd wouldn’t make Wake as massive as Texas A&M, but it would be a step in the right direction.

Adding a second campus on the other side of University Parkway would certainly make Wake a more well-rounded university. Wake’s new campus could have a math and science focus. That would be a great balance to Wake’s liberal arts tradition.

I’m proposing the biggest initiative in Wake’s history since it relocated to Winston in 1956. The Reynolds’ family built Wake a new campus decades ago. Decades later Wake should take another step forward.

Expanding Wake Forest would be a boom to Winston’s economy. But some safeguards to my proposed expansion would have to be put in place.

I have been critical of Wake Forest in the past and will continue to be critical of the university in the future. Wake continues to operate as if its separate and above the concerns of the city around it. Wake needs to formally acknowledge its place in the city and its responsibilities to Winston-Salem.

As Winston’s primary economic driver, a university endowed with the wealth produced by many decades of exploited black workers-Wake must dedicate some of its wealth to the truly needy in Winston.

Wake needs to give more scholarships to the city’s residents (particularly in minority-majority East Winston), fund our city’s buses, build truly affordable housing for the poor and consider funding co-ops that put our city’s poor back to work.

Many observers probably think that selling the W-S Fairgrounds is a crazy idea. The Dixie Classic Fair brings in millions each year, why mess up a good thing?

Like Councilmember James Taylor, I too hate the name “Dixie” and won’t mourn the loss of the fair. With the money that the city makes from selling the fairgrounds to Wake, it can fund some other festival during the fall.

I know the fair has some history and some positive characteristics. But on the whole, it encourages people to spend money that they don’t have and to eat foods that they shouldn’t be eating.

I would like to see the city take the money from the sale of the fairgrounds and spend that money on Quarry Park. Quarry Park is a nice place to visit, but there really isn’t anything to do there.

The city should invest in that park, perhaps they could revive the glory of the old Reynolds’ Park. Bring back the farris wheel, merry-go-round, the skating rink of years past. The city could make Quarry Park into a year-round attraction that would bring residents of the city into East Winston.

The splash parks and other projects that councilmembers are spreading around the various wards of Winston are nice. But East Winston needs a destination, something that can’t be found anywhere else in the city.

My hair-brained idea might never see the light of day. But if it does it would require sustained efforts from activists throughout Winston to make sure Winston-Salem Alliance President and mayor, Allen Joines gets every dollar possible out of Wake.

As we approach the new year, we have to remember to think big and push the limits of what is possible.


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