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Football Stadium as Political Football

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At his New Year's Day prayer breakfast, Mayor Willie Herenton proposed that Memphis tear down Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium and replace it with a new stadium at the Fairgrounds. Last Tuesday, the Memphis City Council received a consultant's report on the feasibility of a new stadium and promptly voted to delay further discussion of it until December. Two days later, the University of Memphis announced that it would do its own feasibility study of an on-campus stadium.

Here is a "progress report" on the stadium proposal for the last nine months.

Date: January 1, 2007

Theme: "On the Wall," the title of the mayor's breakfast speech.

Venue: Press conference after breakfast at Memphis Cook Convention Center.

Handout: Six stapled pages of color pictures of pro and college football stadiums in Charlotte, Detroit, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Louisville.

Cost estimate: $63 million (Louisville) to $300 million (Detroit).

Research/professionalism: College student hoping for a C grade.

Supporting cast: University of Memphis' R.C. Johnson and Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau's Kevin Kane.

Big idea: Replace rather than refurbish the Liberty Bowl.

Reaction: Say what?

Date: February 20, 2007

Theme: "Project Nexus: Fairgrounds Master Plan and New Stadium Proposal."

Venue: Lobby of City Hall.

Handout: Four-page press release and 40-page report.

Cost estimate: $150 million to $185 million.

Research/professionalism: Five-figure consulting job, with PowerPoint style.

Supporting cast: Various directors and mayoral staff.

Big idea: Economic development with fiscal restraint. No property taxes.

Reaction: In the Flyer, U of M booster Harold Byrd pushes for on-campus stadium.

Date: September 18, 2007

Theme: "Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium Development Options."

Venue: City Council committee room.

Handout: 136-page report.

Cost estimate: $21 million for renovation to $217 million for new stadium.

Research/professionalism: Six-figure consulting job, with footnotes.

Supporting cast: Chief financial officer Robert Lipscomb.

Big idea: Report covers all the bases but was "edited" before release.

Reaction: Put it away until December, two months after election.

Meanwhile, on September 15th, the Tigers defeated Jacksonville State before an estimated 28,000 fans at the 62,000-seat Liberty Bowl Stadium. Last Saturday, the Tigers traveled to Orlando to play Central Florida, which has a new on-campus 45,000-seat stadium with no public drinking fountains. Memphis lost 56-20 before a full house.

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