City Closes Jfk Stadium

Posted: July 14, 1989

John F. Kennedy Stadium in South Philadelphia, the city's oldest sports and entertainment arena, will be "closed immediately" and probably demolished

because it is structurally unsafe and a fire hazard, Mayor Goode said last night.

The 63-year-old stadium, traditional home of the Army-Navy football rivalry, was used as recently as last Friday night for a concert by the Grateful Dead rock group that attracted more than 55,000 people.

The announcement of the closing of JFK comes the same week that several Philadelphia sports leaders said they went to Goode with a proposal to raze the aging stadium and build a "newer, better arena" on the site to counter an effort by New Jersey to lure the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team to Camden.

A fire and safety inspection before last Friday's concert turned up problems that were investigated further yesterday and resulted in a decision to close the stadium, the mayor said at a news conference in his office at 9:15 p.m. The decision was made by Goode, the city Recreation Department, which operates the stadium, the Fire Department, and the Department of Licenses and Inspections.

"I am directing that JFK Stadium be closed immediately" and any future use be prohibited, Goode said.

Many of the fire hazards became known just before the Grateful Dead concert. However, by that time, officials said, about 20,000 concert-goers were already inside the stadium and 20,000 more were outside.

"Since we felt the danger was not imminent and strict no-smoking regulations were followed, we felt going ahead with the concert was the safest course," said Christian Schweizer, deputy fire commissioner.

Officials from the Fire, Recreation, and Licenses and Inspections Departments at last night's news conference said the problems at the stadium include piles of combustible materials and other fire hazards, old and crumbling concrete, and electrical problems that could cause fires.

In recent years, Recreation Department officials said, chunks of crumbling concrete had occasionally fallen into crowded areas.

Schweizer said other hazards included propane gas cylinders and empty drums that had held volatile substances and might contain dangerous fumes.

"The likelihood of our making the necessary repairs to JFK Stadium is remote, and the probable course of action will be to demolish it or look for alternate uses," said Goode. He declined to specify what other uses those might be.

The officials that said the stadium had repeatedly been cited in recent years for safety violations, but that the Recreation Department had corrected some and many precautions taken during major events made disasters highly unlikely.

Goode said that neither he nor any other city official had knowingly let huge crowds enter a facility he knew was dangerous.

"I am certain that these officials brought this to my attention as soon as they became aware of the danger to lives and property, and that was this afternoon," he said.

In his comments on the stadium's future, Goode seemed to lean strongly toward the option of demolishing the stadium.

He said he had been told by officials of the other departments that the stadium might be repairable and thus able to meet safety standards, but that such repairs might be too expensive.

He was unable to estimate the repair costs, he said, "except that I am told it's 'a lot of money.' "

L&I Commissioner Don Kligerman said that his department had known for several years of some problems at the stadium, but that they had worsened in the last year or two.

The stadium, with a seating capacity of up to 102,000, has been the site of hundreds of major events over the decades, including the Army-Navy football games in Philadelphia, the huge Live Aid concert in 1985 and the Amnesty International rock concert last year. The Live Aid concert drew about 95,000 people, said Ron Bond, deputy commissioner of the Recreation Department.

The biggest coming event scheduled for the stadium was a Rolling Stones rock concert on Sept. 21. Goode and Bond said that the concert would be postponed or relocated, but that plans had not yet been discussed.

The decision to close the stadium forced Electric Factory Concerts to cancel sales of tickets for the Stones concert. Alan C. Kessler, attorney for Electric Factory Concerts, said late last night that his client "is

discussing with the city alternative arrangements," including possibly holding the concert at Veterans Stadium.

Another major event that will be delayed or moved is the annual Police and Fire Department Hero Scholarship Fund Thrill Show, which raises funds for the children of police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty.

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