PEPER COLUMN: North Charleston Coliseum important to Lowcountry
Twenty years ... can it be that long that we’ve been attending events at the North Charleston Coliseum? Remember the recoil when it was revealed there would be a charge to park? We weren’t accustomed to that. How about the idea to bring ice hockey to an area that was only interested in putting ice in its sweet tea?
Concerts, sporting events, wrestling shows and, yes, even “American Idol” auditions have used the facility at one time or another since it opened Jan. 29, 1993.
The outside of the building always has been intriguing. Early on, I was told it was designed to resemble a Lowcountry sweetgrass basket. Never knew that to be true or not. Maybe from a couple thousand feet it does? The pilots on final approach to the Charleston Air Force Base may be the best resource for corroboration.
The very first event was a figure skating championship. There were many parking issues, and it took almost an hour for folks to leave after the event ended. The next night, though, thousands more arrived to see country star Alan Jackson. In the space of 48 hours, two very different forms of entertainment had attracted sell-out crowds. It was clear the coliseum was a hit.
Magnet on Montague
Could Charleston, though, sustain this support? Was there enough disposable income for folks to pony up the cash for the various events?
Week after week, month after month, the bookings continued. From big-name recording artists to monster truck shows, they all made a curtain call.
We all have our memories. During a live TV interview with some wrestlers known as The Bushwackers, I distinctly recall them leaning over and licking my face as I signed off. The beard burn was visible for two days. The accompanying trauma lasted a little longer.
The world was coming to North Charleston, and folks in the Lowcountry no longer were forced to drive to Charlotte, Atlanta or Jacksonville to get their tickets torn.
The local hockey team, the South Carolina Stingrays, remain loyal tenants and retain a solid fan base. Other cities in the state tried minor league hockey, too, but with limited success.
Most memorable moment?
In my mind, the most poignant and significant use of the coliseum in its first 20 years came soon after nine local firefighters died in 2007. It was there that the country came to pay tribute in a memorial service. Hundreds of trucks filled the parking lots, and thousands of first responders gathered to mourn and offer comfort to a hurting community.
Traffic stopped on all the arteries that fed the coliseum that day. As those fire engines rolled by displaying their various departments and city designations, many motorists and residents stood by the side of the road with their hands over their hearts. It seemed all roads led to the coliseum on that sad summer day. Having such a facility to stage such a public outpouring of concern and support was important.
On that day, in that moment, all of the other reasons that building was constructed seemed secondary. Its primary purpose on that hot day in June was to provide a central location for families and fellow firefighters to pay their respects.
Isn’t it comforting, even today, to know that all the emotion, the tears, the prayers and the grief were somehow poured into that “sweetgrass basket” and it was the perfect size to handle it all.
Happy 20th birthday ... to a building that continues to be vital and meaningful to this community.
Reach Warren Peper at wpeper@ postandcourier.com.