Fairgrounds Gets Quick Action



The Memphis City Council voted Tuesday to demolish an old building at the Mid-South Fairgrounds and design a green pathway as a grand entrance to Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium from East Parkway.

The Public Green Space Project, as it is called, will cost about $10 million to design and build and will be completed in two stages. The first stage is scheduled to be finished by September, and the second stage a year later. It consists of 15 acres of "irrigated turf grass" suitable for tailgating on game days and general use on other days. A rendering of the project shows a fountain in the middle of it.

The council unanimously approved the project. The cost of the design is $606,210. Former City Council member Tom Marshall's architectural firm will design the Green Space Project. Funds for the $4.75 million first-phase of construction would be redirected from two maintenance building projects, Liberty Bowl locker room improvements that are being put off, and $255,000 in federal funds. The council must still approve that expenditure.

The demolition of some of the former Mid-South Fair buildings will create more parking, bringing the total number of spots to 7,550, with an additional 1,800 spaces on the former Libertyland site available if needed, although that area has mature trees and is envisioned as a park and picnic area. Two old buildings will remain standing — the Pipkin and Creative Arts Building — for use during football games and for roller derby teams that currently use another building.

Representatives of the big three of Memphis football — the University of Memphis, the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, and the Southern Heritage Classic — supported the resolutions, as did FedEx executives Fred Smith and Alan Graf. City Councilman Reid Hedgepeth, who steered the resolutions to passage, said they will make the fairgrounds more attractive for future commercial development.

The exterior of the stadium has been shabby for years, and the demolitions and green space should be welcome improvements as the University of Memphis tries to raise its football profile. But they could mean the end of developer Henry Turley's ambitious plans for Fair Ground, a youth sportsplex with retail stores and lodging in a Tourism Development Zone, although Hedgepeth and Housing and Community Development Director Robert Lipscomb said that the developer and long-range future of the fairgrounds are still open questions. But Tuesday's action, coupled with the groundbreaking for the Kroc Center on East Parkway, locks up another key piece of real estate and stresses the priority of parking for eight football games each year plus a few days of related events.

To do a master plan would mean creating a special authority, taking away parking, demolishing the coliseum, and reconfiguring the land to be used for the Green Space Project west of the stadium. Parking and tailgating space is particularly important to football promoter Fred Jones of the Southern Heritage Classic, which matches Jackson State and Tennessee State University. Eliminating a few hundred existing parking spots drew criticism from Jones and prompted some quick changes in the plans.

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