Is Rizal Memorial really set for the wrecking ball?
One of the most iconic sports venues in the country could be demolished very soon to make way for more malls and condominiums. At least according to this news article from last week.
The Rizal Memorial Sports Complex, one of the few remaining sports hotspots in an accessible part of town, could be nothing more than a memory.
But what are the facts? How soon will this happen? And is there a way to avoid this fate? These are the questions this article will attempt to raise and answer.
The Rizal Memorial Sports Complex was completed in 1934, that is, if our reading of the roman numerals on its exterior walls is correct. Apart from the football, baseball and basketball stadiums it also hosts, or has hosted, sports like bowling, swimming, taekwondo, wushu, badminton, and even billiards. Pool players like Rubilen Amit and Dennis Orcollo regularly practice at the pool venue of the building beside the PNB branch adjacent to the football stadium.
Rizal Memorial was finished in time for the now-defunct Far Eastern Games in 1934, and hosted the Asian Games two decades later after it was repaired following World War 2.
There is plenty of history there. The basketball coliseum hosted Ateneo's unforgettable 1988 UAAP hoops title. Three years laterNorman Fegidero's goal beat Malaysia in the SEA Games. Babe Ruth once slugged a home run in the baseball stadium.
But will all that history be just history soon? Not so, says one source familiar with the Philippine Sports Commission who has requested anonymity.
“That's not going to happen,” says the source, referring to the conversion of the land to commercial use.
“I don't even know how that article came out,” adds the source, who also has a theory on how it came to be.
“It was a public relations play by (Manila City Mayor) Erap Estrada to look for investors. The PSC was not even consulted.”
So there. Maybe this planned demolition is really nothing more than just idle talk. But for sure it shouldn't take place. The metropolis has more than enough malls and condos. What it needs is open space for sports and recreation. A Google maps view of other major cities compared to ours will certainly reveal that Manila has a paucity of parks and sports facilities. This not only exacerbates the decades-long decline in our sports performances internationally, but also hampers efforts to create a sporting culture among regular Filipinos.
But this piece is not meant to rail against the onslaught of commercial interests versus the need for sports venues. It is intended to be more than that.
So what if this demolition and land conversion does push through? There is a case to spare the football stadium and merely develop the land around it.
All sports are important. In an ideal world, all of these facilities would continue. But among all of the sports housed in the complex, only football and basketball are big spectator sports. (Baseball seems to be struggling for momentum at the moment.) That means those two sports need venues that are easily accessible by fans, in central locations, near public transportation.
Basketball has several venues all over the city, but football really only has Rizal Memorial. The Philippine Sports Stadium is too far outside the city, and the University of Makati is not used anymore for league play because of a poor pitch. It also doesn't have the seating capacity of Rizal, which is over 12,000 when filled to the brim. It's really our only viable choice, especially for Azkals games.
My suggestion is to keep the grandstand, which is a marvelous example of pre-war Art Deco architecture, and the field. Then demolish the bleachers and build a new stand around it, with modern facilities like lockers and media rooms. This could all be connected to a mall and parking buildings. You aren't really building a new stand, you are actually making a mall that has a stand on one side. This new area could incorporate luxury boxes and new, modern lighting. The two lighting towers behind the bleachers can be removed.
I propose that a small bleacher be put on the north end, flush with the field. And then on the other end, connected to the proposed wall, another mall could be right up against the field, but with a row of restaurants and bars with balconies overlooking the pitch. Something like this in Yankee Stadium in New York.
The problem with developers and football fields is that they feel the space is “wasted,” that more could be earned with commercial use. Something like this could minimize that perceived wastage. Even when there is no game going on, restaurant and bar patrons still have a lovely view.
In this plan, I would also propose that the stadium be available for mixed use, not just for sports. Rizal's Limonta turf is not designed to have other events directly on top of it. But fortunately there are temporary plastic tiles that can be placed on top of the field to protect it for trade shows, boxing matches, concerts, and other events. You can check them out here.
Suddenly the viability of the area is much greater. It can be rented out for other events, ensuring more profits for the developer. The PSC, which controls RMS, could even invest in these tiles right now.
But what if the developer is hell-bent on ripping the whole dang thing apart and start from scratch? Well, there's a way to save football even in that scenario. Presenting the Voždovac Stadium in Serbia, home of the Voždovac Belgrade football team.
It's literally a football stadium on top of a mall. The developer could go this route, although he will have to put in more seats. Voždovac only has 5,200, a bit tight for a national stadium.
SM is planning to build a pitch on top of Mall Of Asia, but that's still in the bidding phase to my knowledge. And judging from the artist's impressions, its seating will also be insufficient for a national team. However for the national league, UAAP, NCAA and other leagues, it should be perfect.
So let's hope it all works out for football then. The Philippine Star article names Ricky Razon as a businessman behind this planned development. Razon mostly supports golf in this country but has roots in the beautiful game too. He once supported the ICTSI football team many moons ago that had his nephew Freddy Gonzalez as its striker. Perhaps he can be persuaded to keep football in that part of the city.
So football fans, relax and try not to panic. There is still a very good chance this can all work out well. The Grand Old Lady of Philippine football isn't going anywhere yet. – Rappler.com
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.