Longtime viewers of Memphis television need little prompting to recall the enthusiasm about events in the sports world that was routinely communicated by WMC-TV's erstwhile sports anchor, Harold Graeter.
Since 1998, Graeter has been dealing out generous hunks of that same excitement on behalf of the Liberty Bowl, where he toils these days as executive vice president. On Tuesday, he was generating the fever at a luncheon of the Memphis Rotary Club, and anyone who listened, including long-suffering fans of the University of Memphis football Tigers, had to have been infected.
Graeter's specific subject was Tiger Lane, the imposing new greensward that will provide a new "front door" to the Liberty Bowl and will presumably be ready in time for the stadium's first major event, Fred Jones' annual Southern Heritage matchup between Jackson State and Tennessee State on September 11th.
Indeed, the graphics presented by Graeter — both the projected view when finished and actual photographs of the work in progress — were impressive. Tiger Lane will have a monumental Central Park look to it from East Parkway across several unencumbered acres of turf. As a doorway to Memphis' preeminent outdoor sports arena, it is one heck of a replacement for Hollywood Street.
The green space itself is comparable, in Graeter's estimation, to park facilities adjoining the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, or War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, Arkansas, or (need we mention it) the Grove in Oxford, Mississippi. Directly aligned with it will be 600 special parking spots with their own tailgating areas. And, speaking of parking, some 1,000 new general-purpose parking spaces have been added to the immediate vicinity, raising the grand total in the newly landscaped Fairgrounds area to some 8,000 spots.
In short, after years of seeing one plan or another floated for regeneration of the Liberty Bowl space or of the Fairgrounds in general, something real and encouraging is about to happen. In place of what Graeter called "a big negative" will be an inviting new atmosphere. A big positive, if you will — especially when you have the Children's Museum and the Kroc Center, coming into play soon, as near neighbors.
And, oh, of course he did not fail to remind the Rotarians — and through them, us — that, besides the Southern Heritage Classic and the University of Memphis football season, the final grand event of the year at the newly renovated facility will be the Liberty Bowl itself, scheduled for the afternoon of New Year's Eve this year. The bowl game has renewed its contracts with the Southeastern Conference, Conference-USA, the Big East, and ESPN. AutoZone once again is the major sponsor.
Graeter expressed gratitude for the supportive efforts of current Mayor A C Wharton and the Memphis City Council in bringing about this new state of affairs. And we concur.