HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - The CEO and President of the Rocket City Trash Pandas went before Madison’s City Council on Monday asking for answers.
He wanted to talk about how the Trash Pandas did in 2020, but also to ask city leaders for help.
Rocket City Trash Pandas President Ralph Nelson said he just wants an answer on when the I-565 ramp by Toyota Field will be done. Nelson said he was originally told the I-565 ramp would be open in August, but as of Monday, it remains closed.
”The ramp I-565 is finished. It sits unused. That is wrong,” Nelson said to city leaders during a presentation.
“It is without question the reason I am here tonight is because that ramp is the deciding factor without question. That ramp is the reason the baseball field is here rather than in Huntsville or somewhere else.”
That’s an issue he said he saw firsthand during their Christmas light show they hosted last year.
“I saw people lined up all the way to downtown Madison to Zierdt Road, all the way down Zierdt Road to Madison Boulevard and down Madison. People had to sit in their cars to get here.”
Nelson said he calculates this ramp cost him 20 percent in lost revenue from that event and doesn’t know whether this is a state issue, developer issue, or city issue. During the city council meeting Mayor Paul Finley said they feel his frustrations.
“He does know the answers,” Mayor Finley said. “He is just as frustrated as we are. This agreement for the interchange is now down to the flyovers. They took the responsibility to get that done. The city gave that to the developers.”
Meanwhile, a representative with the Alabama Department of Transportation said this is not a state department of transportation project, it’s a privately funded one. That person also said eastbound ramps are near completion which is the first phase of that interchange.
“Part of the commitment of the developers to the Federal Highway Administration and to ALDOT in order to access the interstate was to have the remaining phase or phases of interchange construction underway before opening the eastbound ramps,” that representative said.
Now with no baseball, the Trash Pandas had to adapt hosting even more events to make money.
They made $4 million in revenue which is not what they were hoping for before the pandemic, but Nelson says it’s still good given the circumstances. However, the city’s portion of the revenue was almost $700,000
The team sold about $1.6 million in merchandise last year which is more than the year before.
During the city council meeting, Nelson presented a check of $100,000 down payment to the city for their portion of the money. Nelson said this money is not due until April, but was paid tonight as a gesture of good faith.
Nelson also brought up that during the many events they hosted over the pandemic they’ve not had one person report COVID-19 from those events. He also said unlike most, none of his staff were fired during the pandemic.
We reached out to the developer and will update as soon as we hear back.