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Calling the Coliseum

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I can't help it: I'm hoping for a Mid-South Coliseum miracle.

The 42-year-old Coliseum is slated to close at the end of October. Though it hosts about 70 days of events a year -- including jury duty summons, graduations, Crunkfests, and the Shrine Circus -- the Coliseum is $1 million in the hole. It's expected to lose another $400,000 this year, and with county

government not helping with operating costs, the city has said it's time to leave the building.

It just seems a shame. The 12,000-seat Coliseum may be a little worse for the wear, but as far as sight and sound go, it's still a good little venue. But, as Councilman Rickey Peete said at a capital budget hearing earlier this week: "It's going through the system, but it all boils down to money."

And it's unclear how much money it would boil down to.

City architect Mel Scheuerman estimates that it would cost $3 million to $5 million to make the Coliseum compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

"It's a great venue because of the split seating," says Scheuerman. "It's easy to get into if you're not mobility-impaired. It's easy to get people out when the event is over. But to renovate it to comply with the ADA, it's going to be a nightmare."

Plus, that money doesn't begin to cover the costs of overhauling the Coliseum so it can compete with the DeSoto Civic Center in Southaven, the facility that the Memphis RiverKings hockey team moved into after leaving the Coliseum in 1999. There's been talk of luring the 'Kings back home, but one of the reasons they left six years ago was because the Coliseum was not well-suited to their needs.

Without knowing what the building will ultimately be used for, it's difficult to say how much renovations will cost.

"We need to figure out what we are trying to accomplish," says Scheuerman. "What niche do we want the Coliseum to fill? Once we define the niche, we can define the parameters of the building."

In December of last year, a private company was interested in buying the Coliseum and keeping it as an entertainment venue. The group later backed out, citing $21 million in renovation costs. It is perhaps the last, best estimate. Scheuerman says he simply cannot give a confident estimate without knowing what upgrades the building will need.

"The concessions are old," says Scheuerman. "In the past 10 to 15 years, concession stands have changed a lot. It used to be you got popcorn, a hot dog, and a coke, and life was good. Now some places serve sushi."

One such place is the FedExForum, which not only has state-of-the-art everything, but because of the infamous "no compete" clause, has a lock on Memphis events.

Despite the 21 million reasons to close it, I'd like to see the Coliseum remain open. Some would argue that the Coliseum should be kept open because it has a history -- performances by the Beatles, Elvis, Kanye, and the Tigers, to name a few -- but I'd like to think it has a future.

The Coliseum doesn't have to lure the same acts that slither into the casinos or the names that sell out the Forum. In addition to the RiverKings idea, there has been chatter about re-opening the ice for youth hockey.

With the Pyramid becoming a Bass Pro Shops, there seems to be a need for a venue of the Coliseum's shape and size. In fact, the city school system is drafting a letter to that effect, to be sent to the city administration. During budget meetings with members of the City Council, school officials said that most of their high school graduations occur in the Pyramid or the Coliseum, and that the Cannon Center is generally too small.

By the time you read this, the Coliseum may be little more than a memory. The council is expected to talk about keeping the venue during budget discussions this week, and some members are open to the idea.

"To me, it's a no-brainer because of its size and location," says Councilman Myron Lowery. "There is a dramatic need in the community for a venue of this size. ... Let's think about keeping it open instead of sending events and dollars down to DeSoto."

He's not the only one. Perhaps looking for a miracle herself, council member Carol Chumney recently asked if the Salvation Army's Kroc Center -- a $24 million, 103,000-square-foot facility planned for the Fairgrounds -- could renovate and operate the Coliseum as an ice-skating rink. Unfortunately, the Kroc Center funding can only be used for new construction.

Still, I'd wager there are other ideas out there. I personally know of some ladies who would love to use the Coliseum for flat-track roller derby.

But I can't see any of it happening without divine intervention.

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