As hard as this community fought to get Medal of Honor winner Lawrence Joel’s name on the coliseum, it’s hard to stomach the possibility of it being renamed.
We know that the city and Wake Forest University have reached an apparent compromise. If the sale of the coliseum goes through, Wake Forest has agreed to keep the Lawrence Joel name and veterans’ memorial designation on the coliseum facade and on the marquee. The school will also name the lobby and the adjacent veterans’ monuments as the “Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Lobby” and “Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Plaza.”
The coliseum itself is certain to have a different name, though. Perhaps it will be named for some deep-pocket school contributor or the highest-bidding corporation. Any sports fan knows that the arena name is what is said by sports announcers on nationally-televised games. Dick Vitale isn’t going to say, “coming to you live from the building adjacent to the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Plaza.”
So the compromise is merely a way to quiet dissent, and it may do just that, but it is far from the solution that many of us want to ensure that the Joel legacy never fades in the city that this hero called home.
It was such a tough fight back in the mid-1980s when the City Council voted to name the new coliseum after a black war hero. Twenty-five white veterans showed up at the meeting to desecrate Joel’s legacy, some even stating that Joel – who continued to administer medical treatment to his comrades even after being shot during the battle of Viet Cong – did not deserve the nation’s highest military honor.
The city says selling the coliseum makes good financial sense. We ask, why did the city build the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum? Was it because the city had some discretionary money and just wanted to spend it on something? Did the city ever think that we could make money with the venue or did leaders know it would be a losing proposition from the beginning?
Has the city sought to bring a marketing specialist to at least attempt to make the coliseum profitable?
City leaders seem too eager to turn loose public properties. The Benton Convention Center was put on the auction block a few years ago. Our leaders decided to give a hospitality investment firm millions of dollars rather than attempt to do something themselves to turn the convention center – which, by the way, is still named for legendary (white) mayor M.C. Benton – into a cash cow. Wake Forest has already taken ownership of the former Ernie Shore Field, which is adjacent to the coliseum that the school is eying. Maybe the school wants City Hall too. Our leaders will probably be willing to sell.