An aging relic, Lynn's Manning Bowl has been on life support for the last three decades, but the city has decided to pull the plug on the venerable 66-year-old stadium, which has played host to local legends such as Harry Agganis and world-famous acts like the Rolling Stones.
Newburyport, Haverhill face similar problems with old stadiums. Page 8
Lynn Mayor Edward J. "Chip" Clancy announced at a press conference on Thursday at Manning Bowl that Lynn would move to tear down the 17,000-seat stadium, which has fallen into a state of disrepair, calling it "functionally obsolescent." Clancy said the stadium would be replaced by a 6,000 to 8,000-seat multipurpose facility with synthetic grass built on the current footprint.
"We don't need a 20,000-seat football stadium," said Clancy. "Lynn football was in its heyday after World War II and during Harry Agganis, but both those times and the stadium are obsolete. There isn't a high school stadium in the Northeast that attracts that type of crowd. What we need is a multipurpose, all-weather sports surface."
The announcement comes in the wake of electrical problems that forced the suspension of night games at the stadium this season and the decision earlier this month by city inspectors to close the north-side stands -- and parts of the south-side stands -- after the discovery of extensive cracking and crumbling of the stadium's concrete shell. Clancy said in a prepared statement that attempting to refurbish the Lynn landmark would be "foolhardy."
Clancy did not offer a timetable for when Manning Bowl would be demolished and the new stadium completed or a price tag for the plan, but said he would appoint a special committee to explore the city's options and establish a framework for the project. The committee is scheduled to hold its first meeting Tuesday.
Clancy's announcement marks the end of an era in Lynn sports. Opened in 1938 as a Works Progress Administration project, Manning Bowl, named for Lynn Mayor J. Fred Manning, has been a North Shore sports and entertainment icon for parts of eight decades.
Local sports historian Bob Keaney, who covered games at the stadium for the Lynn Post, said tearing down Manning Bowl won't be simply losing a building, but a member of the community.
"In a sense it would be like when the Boston Garden came down," said Keaney, who attended the 1966 Rolling Stones concert at Manning Bowl that ended in a riot scene after fans stormed the stage. "When the Garden came down it was hurtful for the loss of the memories and the tradition of the place."
During his days at Lynn Classical in the late 1940s, Agganis, the legendary Lynn athlete who went on to play for the Red Sox before his death at the age of 26 in 1955, routinely packed the bowl for football games, as crowds of more than 20,000 came to watch the "Golden Greek" work his magic.
While hosting high school football was Manning Bowl's metier, the stadium also hosted National Football League exhibition games, and a minor league football team, the Bay State Titans, called the stadium home in the early 1990s. But some of Manning Bowl's best performances had nothing to do with football. In addition to the Rolling Stones, musical acts such as Ray Charles, Aerosmith, and the Beach Boys performed at the stadium. And in recent years drum and bugle corps competitions have drawn some of its largest crowds.
There is a sentimental attachment to the stadium among city residents, and back in June, when North Shore Spirit owner Nick Lopardo floated a plan to replace it, Clancy, while acknowledging a decision would have to be made soon on the long-term viability of the facility, said such a decision could not be made by him alone due to the stadium's status in the city.
But a recent tour of Manning Bowl showed that reality has surpassed sentimentality.
The stadium's north stands are dotted with "Keep Out" signs and orange netting to restrict access to seats and the concourse that runs underneath the stadium. In the concourse, the deterioration of concrete is so great that in many sections Manning Bowl's steel skeleton is visible. Crumbled pieces of concrete, some as large as a football, litter the ground.
Mike Donovan, the city's director of inspectional services and building commissioner, said the patches on the stadium's concrete, which according to city records were done in 1976 as part of Manning Bowl's last major rehabilitation, are "failing at an alarming rate." Donovan brushed a decaying section with his hand and the cement crumbled like an overbaked cookie. Donovan said those patches were done 28 years ago when the north-side stands were condemned under almost identical circumstances.
"When you start to lose concrete around the rebar you're starting to lose structural strength," said Donovan, who explained that the vibrations caused by a capacity crowd could be enough to shake loose pieces of concrete on the undercarriage of the north-side stands.
Donovan, who blames the deterioration on a combination of harsh winter conditions and the apparent absence of waterproofing, wrote a letter to Clancy early last week estimating the cost of repairing the crumbling concrete structure at $6 million, not including the cost of overhauling Manning Bowl's electrical and plumbing systems or the retrofitting required to meet current building codes regarding handicapped accessibility.
"If you had a 1972 car, would you keep fixing it or buy a new one?" asked Donovan, who played at Manning Bowl as a member of the Lynn Classical football team in the late 1970s. "Every structure has a life. You can try to prolong it. . . . Manning Bowl has reached the end of its useful life, without extensive renovations."
Manning Bowl is one of the last of a dying breed of large municipal stadiums. Similar facilities in Everett and Chelsea have been downsized and remodeled, only pieces of their facade remaining as reminders of what once was. Chelsea Memorial Stadium underwent a $1 million renovation that included a synthetic grass surface last year. The surface, called FieldTurf, has allowed Chelsea to host MIAA playoff games. Clancy said Lynn would study and look to imitate parts of those projects.
Clancy said construction on the Manning Bowl site would displace four high schools -- Lynn Classical, Lynn English, Lynn Tech, and St. Mary's -- for at least a year. He did not specify how the city would pay for the new facility. Members of Lynn's political delegation, led by state Senator Thomas M. McGee, had inserted $2 million in the state's supplemental budget for repairs to Manning Bowl. However, Governor Mitt Romney vetoed the funds, leaving them out of the $439 million supplemental budget he approved on Sept. 10.
Romney spokeswoman Laura Nicoll said, "In general we did not fund projects that weren't state projects in the supplemental budget." She pointed out that Lynn received higher than the state average in lottery funding -- Lynn got 13.1 percent, the average is 11.3 percent -- from the state and said the administration would be happy to review the funding if it came to the governor's desk again.
Clancy was not satisfied with that explanation.
"It's totally incongruous to allow $2 million for a boat house in Newton and knock out funds for poor kids in Lynn," said Clancy. "That's not how federal, state, or local governments should work."
While the debate continues on how Lynn will pay for the new stadium, the debate over the fate of Manning Bowl is over.
"This was inevitable. It's been a long time and it's deteriorated year after year," said Lynn Tech athletic director Dave Johnson. "When I was in high school in 1966, 1976, 1986, you could see it get worse and worse. You can do a patch here and a patch there, but its time has come."