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Restoring the Grape Bowl is a winnable game

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Posted: Friday, March 2, 2007 10:00 pm

Like a bunch of bruisers planning a running attack in football, the City Council will huddle next week and attempt to repair the Grape Bowl.

We admire the "stick with the ground game" attitude of the city and its ad hoc Grape Bowl Committee. They are trying to slog out enough yardage to save the very icon of Lodi's sports history. But the Grape Bowl has little going for it except memories - legions of Depression era unemployed scraping out the stadium's banks from Lodi's fertile soil; Eddie LeBaron's Pacific College Tigers facing off against Bob Celeri's Cal Bears; wave after wave of high school scholars bidding farewell to their small-town childhood.

The dilapidated stairs, the inaccessible and decaying bathrooms, the steep ramps and cracked asphalt walkways are a lawsuit lying in wait. If, in the next few years, the Grape Bowl isn't fixed up, it will get locked up.

And like so much else, the quality of the future depends on money.

Next week the City Council will discuss a shaky strategy to put a federal grant together with scarce discretionary county funds. If the council votes "yes" and supervisors Ken Vogel and Steve Gutierrez can find a third vote, they might eke out $675,000 over two years - less than half the distance to the $1.5 million needed to conform to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The ad hoc citizens committee is launching a fund-raiser. If they can charm $500,000 out of people's often-sought charity, and if the contractors can catch a break in ever-escalating building costs, Phase I might get done.

That would be a very big first down. But a secure future for the Grape Bowl would still be a long way down field.

It would take 6 to 8 million dollars for a fully ADA compliant stadium.

There's an even more ambitious dream: an indoor sports facility-slash-main entrance at the bowl's northwest end zone.

John Johnson, who ran for City Council last fall, pushed the idea of coupling the main gate/gym idea, a proposal to add paramedics to fire trucks and a quarter-cent sales tax. This tricky play qualified as Measure G at the last election.

Only 43 percent of the voters approved - not even "Hail, Mary" distance from the needed two-thirds vote.

But we think Lodi needs to keep the drive alive. Our playbook is far from exhausted:

• It might be worth trying the Grape Bowl/indoor sports building idea alone. After the quarter-cent sales tax paid off the bond, it might be an ongoing source to maintain the new complex, Hutchins Street Square and other sports and cultural activities in Lodi.

• Or a redevelopment project might center around a rejuvenated Grape Bowl.

• Any plan needs to consider how to maximize user fees and rent to lower the cost to the taxpayers.

Time and federal law are formidable opponents. But restoring the Grape Bowl is a winnable game if Team Lodi wants it badly enough.

Lodi News-Sentinel

Note: Readers wanting to contribute to the Lodi Community Foundation to Save the Grape Bowl may pick up a brochure at the Lodi Parks and Recreation office, 125 N. Stockton St., or send a check payable to that foundation at P.O. Box 2278, Lodi, CA 95241-2278. Questions can be answered by Jack Fiori at 333-5557 or on the Web at savethegrapebowl.org.

First published: Saturday, March 3, 2007

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