Ask any resident of Columbus, Ohio about their time at Cooper Stadium and they are likely to have fond memories of the old facility. "The Coop" was the home of the Columbus Clippers minor league baseball team from 1977 until 2008.
Before it was Cooper Stadium it was referred to as Red Bird Stadium. Originally built by the St. Louis Cardinals franchise who owned the rights to the Columbus baseball team. For the construction of Red Bird Stadium, the Cardinals utilized a design that was used in Rochester, NY (another team they owned). Red Bird Stadium was renovated to its current from in 1977.
Cooper Stadium hosted a multitude of events besides baseball games. In its lifetime it hosted roller derby's, various high school championships, wrestling matches, and concerts.
The concert line-up was hall-of-fame caliber. The lineup included the likes of Aerosmith, Bob Dylan, and Garth Brooks.
Cooper Stadium even hosted a few televangelists as well.
After the Clippers
When the Clippers announced they were moving downtown; the Columbus City Council jumped into action. On May 1st, 2008 a proposal to turn Cooper Stadium into a race track was considered. People were fairly split on this idea. Some took a liking to the fact there would be racing closer to the city than Columbus Motor Speedway. The opposition was concerned with the noise pollution that would potentially fill the Franklinton area.
The Columbus City Council voted to rezone the stadium in June 2011. They approved the measure by a vote of 4-0. The vote cleared the way for developer Arshot to oversee the project.
Arshot agreed that they would take part in the development of a half-mile racetrack and that would double as an automotive research and technology center. The project would become known as Sports Pavilion and Automotive Research Center (SPARC).
Not only was SPARC poised to be a racetrack but it would be the main testing site for equipment installed on vehicles. The Department of Transportation would use the facility to even test driver-less cars. Initial projections had the facility up and running by 2015.
What's happened since...
Six years have elapsed since the project was announced and little progress has occurred. Some parts of Cooper Stadium no longer exist and questions have arisen.
Area residents are quite concerned with the future of the property and are becoming fed up with Bill Schottenstein.
Schottenstein is the head man for Arshot commissioned with overseeing the transformation of the Cooper Stadium property. Many have tried to reach out to him to get comment on the project but have been unable to reach him. Often there have been claims that he was in a "meeting" or his voicemail is simply not functioning.
He has quickly lost trust from people in the community including Trent Smith, executive director of the Franklinton Board of Trade.
Smith was asked by the Columbus Dispatch how he felt about the lack of progress; he said, "It's in very, very sad shape and it looks worse everyday." It has fallen into tremendous disrepair since the doors closed in 2008. Many don't know if the deal is still on even though the city presented a lucrative tax deal to Schottenstein and Arshot.
The tax deal for 10 years and a 75 percent tax abatement.
Much like many residents in Central Ohio; Cooper Stadium will always have a special place in my heart. When my family moved to Columbus in 2003, it was one of the first places my father and I went to.
I still have vivid memories of my father catching a foul ball off of the old steel beams underneath the overhang. The ball almost took out his "man-hood." It was the first foul ball/souvenir we had ever caught.
Or the time my high school lacrosse team went to a game in an absolute monsoon. We all were absolutely drenched but we had a great time saying good bye to our senior class.
You can't replace memories like that.
Whatever ends up happening to the property I hope there is a resolution soon. It is unfair to the people of the Franklinton community that have to look at such a majestic building fall into such disrepair.