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A case for Zemp

Posted: August 19, 2014 9:41 a.m.
Updated: August 20, 2014 6:00 a.m.

I never played high school football. My glory days ended with the little league Lions and the gridiron of my youth is now a stand of depressingly mature pine trees across the old, worn foot bridge in Woodward Park. Like many, I now enjoy the pleasure of watching and cheering on younger generations and look forward to each new season as it plays out on our home field at Zemp Stadium. It is my opinion that we, as a community, should keep Zemp and prepare the old facility for the future.

With all the discussions lately of new school facilities and the budgeting, mils and penny taxes as possible vehicles to pay for these projects, we seem to be overlooking the details and how replacing Zemp stadium will affect our city. It appears that we will be presented a choice of “all-or-nothing” regarding the coming referendum when we actually need to allow ourselves the flexibility to drill a little deeper and make choices based on the unique opportunity we have to maintain something special. New is not always better; people like new, but they love the old and traditional. Camden is a town of history, of tradition. She is also a town in need of new blood, ideas and progress. Although our history remains one of our inescapable virtues, it is incumbent upon us to navigate the marriage of this history and tradition with community and progress.

As I understand, the two primary reasons given for the demolition and relocation of Zemp Stadium are cost and the geographical and financial conflict with Historic Camden.

As for the cost, consider the following from either previous reporting or from the school district: the new stadium at the Camden High School athletic complex on Ehrenclou Drive is budgeted at approximately $4 million. Along with this, there is a plan in place to salvage the home seating in the current stadium and to use this seating in the new stadium. This is either included in the $4 million or will have to be added. The estimate to demolish Zemp is $250,000 not to include dismantling and re-installing the seats. The estimate to upgrade Zemp stadium at the current location is $2 million-plus, but I am not sure if a detailed plan for this has been formulated. So as a starting point, given these estimates, there would appear to be a savings of around $2.25 million by upgrading Zemp. Numbers are not always exact on the front end of these projects, but this is quite a substantial sum of money.

Regarding the geography, I believe the current location of Zemp is ideal. Located at the entrance to our city, a clean, renovated, vibrant stadium says a lot about who we are as a community. It says that we value tradition and that we appreciate having the oldest active football stadium in South Carolina, a place where citizens of all social, racial, and financial backgrounds have been drawn together as a community each football Friday night for generations. We should not throw this away without good cause. It says that we can manage both the history and progress of our town by preserving this icon of our community while also respecting and showcasing the jewel of our past, Historic Camden. I have always enjoyed looking out of the nighttime stadium at the Kershaw house, proudly covered in light on the grass hill overlooking the old town, and wondered how many visitors also appreciated this view and maybe returned with their families to visit. At the proposed location for the new stadium, all visitors take a left at the Camden welcome sign and they, and we, miss this opportunity.

I understand and empathize with many in the community who feel that the stadium is on hallowed ground. I don’t believe, however, that the stadium takes away from the historic site. It is tucked in the very northern corner and actually has a much smaller footprint compared to the four lanes of concrete and asphalt we ran through the historic site years ago when U.S. 521 was constructed. This venue, along with a renovated city arena, could provide a remarkable magnet for this part of our town and could become a great mixed-use facility for the school district, the city, the county, and Historic Camden, all while saving the taxpayer a large sum of money.

There will still be issues to iron out. Historic Camden owns much of the corner property and parking is an issue. In the end, though, these are details which should not be hard to overcome. Historic Camden needs and warrants funding from the community and there should be a win-win given the savings realized on this project. The good thing is that all this takes is leadership, a commodity we possess in abundance in our city and county government, in the school district, and in the Historic Camden Foundation. Let’s not look back on this with regret in the years to come.


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