Cramton Bowl will be revamped and updated with four
entrances, a state-of-the-art press box, an aesthetically
enhanced plaza area, a “Walk of Fame” celebrating
Montgomery’s sports history, and a new 72,000 square-
foot multi-purpose sports facility. Image courtesy of McKee
and Associates, Architecture and Interior Design.
[kuhn-vur-zhuhn, -shuhn] –noun
Change in character, form, or function; a physical, structural, or design change or transformation; a score made on a try for a point after touchdown. www.Dictionary.com
BY MAX MEMBER TOMMY FIELDS
For years, Friday nights in Montgomery during football season have seen the annual migration of spectators heading to watch their teams do battle. However, the site — which today hosts home games for the ASU Hornets and a host of local high school football rivalries — had a less than auspicious beginning.
From Humble Beginnings
The location, which is now Cramton Bowl, was originally a sanitary landfill owned by Fred Cramton, a local businessman. After a conversation with friends about the need for a baseball stadium, Cramton donated the land to the City so a facility could be constructed there. The City held the land for a time and then returned it, stating that Cramton’s stadium idea was too big of a project for the City to undertake. Cramton then decided to take matters into his own hands; with the help of the Junior Chamber of Commerce, Cramton raised $33,000 to build the now iconic sports venue. The first baseball game played on the new field was in May of 1922 between Auburn and Vanderbilt.
While baseball may have been the original intent for the facility, one of the stadium’s most historic moments happened because of football. In 1927, Cramton Bowl became the site of the very first game played “under the lights” in the South with Cloverdale taking on Pike Road High School. Former superintendant D. H. “Sarge” Caraker remembers fondly, “[We] used dishpans for reflectors and sent to California for the lamps. We drew 7,200 people from all over the South to see it.”
A Unique Mix of Old and New
While the almost 90-year-old facility has seen its share of history, the renovations that are now planned for Cramton Bowl will be a unique mix of the old and the new. The current structure will stay, but will be revamped and updated with four entrances, a state-of-the-art press box, an aesthetically enhanced plaza area, and a “Walk of Fame”, which will celebrate Montgomery’s sports history and house various articles of historic sports memorabilia. Perhaps the most important and impressive addition will be the 72,000 square-foot multi-purpose sports facility.
As these early images show, from its start in 1927, Cramton Bowl has been a popular venue for sporting events
and a major contributor in Montgomery. Images courtesy of Robertson Photography
“We’re getting the best of both worlds by pairing the existing Cramton Bowl with a multi-purpose facility,” said Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange. “The way I see it, we’re really ratcheting up our capabilities in the sports world. I like sports, but it’s not about sports. It’s about economic development,” he said.
If You Build It, They Will Come
The economic development stands to be significant. According to an impact study conducted by Phillip Mixon with the Center for International Business and Economic Development at Troy University, the construction of the facility alone could generate more than 300 jobs. If the venue performs according to the “best case” scenario of hosting around 50 events per year, the number could increase to 1,100. Translated into dollars and cents, those events could generate an estimated $87 million in annual revenue.
According to Strange, Montgomery hopes to attract a variety of sporting events to the new facility, including a 1,000-person archery tournament, volleyball, soccer, tennis, basketball, wrestling, and even possible bowl games. “The economic impact study showed, under the ultra-conservative model, that there would be enough revenue generated to pay the bond issue on the multi-purpose facility. Under the conservative estimate, it would be enough to pay for the whole $22 - 23 million for the renovation of Cramton Bowl,” Strange said. Financing for the renovations were included in a $100 million bond issue the City received earlier this year.
It’s Payback Time
Mixon’s impact study notes that while it typically takes significant time and new economic activity to recover building costs on projects this scale, Cramton Bowl is unique in that it “allows for year-round use with multiple sets for various sports.” The study goes on to mention the quality of life contribution, along with “the ability of the facility to host tournaments and functions that produce revenue to sustain the facility and attract teams and families to spend on hotel rooms, restaurants and other retail goods.” While the price tag for the renovation may be steep, the City has plans to keep operating expenses in check by making use of current staffing already in place at Cramton Bowl to run the new addition. “This makes better use of existing resources,” Strange notes. “There won’t really be any extra operational costs. Parking is already in place, so that also helps keeps cost low. We’ll get more for the money we’ve invested by pairing the new facility with the existing bowl. If all of this was new construction, the cost would be twice as much.”
Let the Games Begin
The responsibility for attracting events to the new venue lies with the newly created Central Alabama Sports Commission. Ken Blankenship serves as the Commission’s Executive Director. Blankenship states that the Commission’s objective is not only to attract sporting events, but also to cultivate central Alabama as a haven for athletics. “We want to make Montgomery the sports capital of Alabama,” he explained. “That’s going to be our brand. We can’t just talk about what we’re going to do, we’ve got to do it. We’re looking at all our facilities, but the biggest one — the one that will make the biggest impact immediately — is the multipurpose facility. [We’ll] have something that no place else in the region has, so it will be easier to get people to come.”
Central Alabama Sports Commission
Strange believes that Blankenship and his team can make the new facility a success. “Contrary to popular belief, the Mayor is responsible for everything, but doesn’t do everything,” he observes. “I try to get people like Ken who know what they’re doing and can catch the vision. Then I get out of the way and let it all happen.” If all goes according to plan, Cramton Bowl will continue to be a place where memories and history are made.