The redevelopment of Mount Vernon’s Memorial Field represents the return of a treasured public space that once stood as the heart of the community. Constructed in the early 1930s, the original stadium and surrounding park were named to honor the city’s veterans. Nearly a century later, reconstruction of athletic facilities and the addition of public space and amenities promise to return this historic venue to its former glory.
For more than 50 years, Memorial Field was the backdrop to renowned sporting events and entertainment acts. The list is long but includes the subject of the 2005 film Cinderella man: the boxing match in which future heavyweight champion Jim Braddock broke his hand. Famous musical acts such as The Jackson 5, Ella Fitzgerald, and James Brown, performed on the field. Coca Cola’s iconic Mean Joe Greene commercial was filmed beneath the stadium’s grandstand.
The well-used structure eventually began to feel its age. By the early 90s, upkeep had grown expensive and burdensome. The City struggled to fund maintenance and repairs. Wooden bleachers on the Visitors’ side of the field were condemned in 1994. Throughout the ‘90s and early 2000s, numerous iterations of park improvement projects were explored and abandoned. Eventually, safety concerns led the City to close Memorial Field to the public.
In 2008, the City of Mount Vernon and Westchester County signed an intermunicipal agreement to fund a major renovation project of the stadium, however, the project faced stops, starts, and a redesign throughout the following decade. In November 2019, the city-county municipal partnership greenlighted a new Memorial Field Stadium design. Construction began in September 2020, and the project was completed in September 2022.
It took creativity to fit so many amenities on a small parcel. To accommodate an eight-lane running track around the sports field, the project team needed to expand the construction area to accommodate the design footprint. The only option was to cut into the rock face at the rear of the site, a process that involved iterative rock removal and inspections, and stabilizing portions of the rock excavation with rock bolts where necessary.
Westchester County selected Woodard & Curran to complete the design of a state-of-the-art sports complex. Our work included facility and land use design, with cost estimates, constructability and project phasing, stormwater management, and environmental compliance. The complex includes a state-of-the art stadium with a multi-sport synthetic turf field, running track, bleachers with a capacity of 3,900, and amenities for athletes and spectators. The facility’s main entry plaza recognizes military veterans. Elsewhere on the property, visitors can enjoy a skate park, tennis courts, and open green space for recreation.
Site constraints represented the project’s most substantial design and constructability challenge. With only 10 acres available, bordered by commercial and residential developments, a four-lane boulevard, and in one area a vertical rock face, space was at a premium. To incorporate the amenities needed to revive Memorial Field as a valuable community resource, our team had to get creative. One of the most major space-saving features is the location of stadium amenities beneath the bleachers, instead of in a separate fieldhouse. Locker rooms, restrooms, trainer/coaches rooms, a referee room, mechanical rooms, and storage are consolidated beneath spectator seating. There is a central tunnel leading from the locker rooms to enter the track and field for events.
A significant priority for Mount Vernon in terms of stadium design was to incorporate an eight-lane running track around the sports field, in compliance with high school standards for outdoor tracks. Despite substantial space-saving measures, the project team needed to expand the construction area to accommodate the design footprint of the expanded seating and larger track. Unable to move roads, homes, and businesses, the only option was to cut into the rock face at the rear of the site. The contractor performed iterative rock removal and inspections, stabilizing portions of the rock excavation with rock bolts where necessary.
One of the most major space-saving features is the location of stadium amenities beneath the bleachers, instead of in a separate fieldhouse. Locker rooms, restrooms, trainer/coaches rooms, a referee room, mechanical rooms, and storage are consolidated beneath spectator seating.
The redevelopment of Memorial Field is a critical element of the City’s efforts toward revitalization. In accordance with Mount Vernon’s updated master plan, this project represents the outcome of a unique public partnership that enhances the community’s attractiveness and livability for an economically and culturally diverse population.
The Memorial Field Stadium Redevelopment project is a prime example of outcome-oriented engineering — project design that incorporates creativity and flexibility to meet the needs of a community. Memorial Field in its early years was the heart of Mount Vernon, a 20th century town square. Gathering, understanding, and incorporating community input was key to restoring the space true to its purpose.
The project team held numerous meetings to gather community input, including a large public meeting open to residents for which there was substantial turnout. This was followed by a meeting with the City Council to review community input, and the design was updated to incorporate it. Significant community interest led to the incorporation of expanded seating capacity, a skate park, and the refurbishing of aging tennis courts.
In addition to the importance of centering the community’s use needs for the complex, Memorial Field’s historic significance was a major consideration in the redesign. While it was cost prohibitive to preserve the grandstand structure itself, the original stadium was dedicated to Mount Vernon’s war veterans, and as such, included numerous plaques and monuments honoring them. Any of these features that could not be salvaged were replicated. A large boulder with a dedication plaque and a cast stone tablet engraved with “Memorial Field” was saved and placed in the main entry plaza during the rebuild. Original dedication plaques were also replicated and incorporated in the new construction.
The new skate park at Memorial Field is one of several ideas brought forth by the community to be incorporated into the facility design.
Mt. Vernon partnered with Westchester County to develop and fund the park’s redevelopment through the Westchester County Legacy Program, which allocates funds in partnership with municipalities to improve and rehabilitate parks and recreational infrastructure. The County provided significant funding toward the project, however, Mount Vernon will retain ownership and responsibility for operation and maintenance.
Prioritizing communication, flexibility, and ingenuity enabled Woodard & Curran to incorporate more amenities and resources than originally planned for the site, therefore maximizing value to the community. While crucial to the success of the project, the partnership between the City of Mount Vernon and Westchester County added a layer of logistical complexity. Stakeholders included not only City government, residents, and local regulators, but a broader swath of people and entities invested in the project. Each change or addition to the project, such as expanded seating, extra track lanes, and a skate park, required budgetary, design, and regulatory agreement through the client, its funding partner, regulatory bodies, and other project consultants and contractors.
The completion of the new Memorial Field Stadium marks the return of a treasured community resource, a gathering place, and a venue for Mount Vernon’s athletes of today to make their own history. Community members gathered at the new stadium on September 24, 2022, to celebrate the kickoff of a new era for the city, as the local high school football team took the field for the first time since 2008. The Mount Vernon Knights defeated the Yonkers Force, 32 to 24, on their new home turf.