City of Memphis officials announced Monday tentative plans to redevelop the MidSouth Fairgrounds into a youth sports complex with hotel, retail, and other community spaces.
The $160-million project would include an $80-million youth sports complex in the southeast area of the property on the former Liberyland site, retail and hotel space with a 500-car garage, as well as revitalization of Tobey Park.
In an overflowing room at the Kroc Center on Monday, city officials outlined the plans for the 178-acre redevelopment to a crowd of about 300.
The sports complex would include a versatile multi-sport facility, a rehabbed creative arts building, a new and relocated track and football field, outdoor basketball and volleyball courts, walking trails, a playground, and community gathering spaces.
The Liberty Bowl will also see $20 million of improvement, to address deferred maintenance and make general upgrades.
Tobey Park is expected to get about $8 million worth of improvements, including renovated baseball fields and parking, a new a bike safety school, and a competition-level BMX track.
The city also plans to extend the Greenline from Flickr Street and Tobey park, through the Fairgrounds and into Cooper Young.
As a part of the project, the city will adhere to a Community Benefits Agreement, a legal document outlining the specific benefits the community will receive as a result of the project.
Of the project’s funding, $2 million would be spent on preserving the historic Melrose High School for an adaptive use, like a museum.
Additionally, infrastructure on Lamar and Airways will be improved to spur private investment in the area.
The city’s director of Housing and Community Development (HCD) Paul Young said the city wants to ensure that the opportunity is maximized and all stakeholders are appeased.
However, some attendees of the meeting voiced their concern over the project’s unclear benefits for the surrounding neighborhoods, as well as the need for a sports complex.
Questions were also raised about how much access the members of the immediate surrounding neighborhoods would have to the complex.
Young of HCD said because the majority of funding for the redevelopment would come from a Tourism and Development Zone (TDZ), the project has to be one that tourists can benefit from.
Pending Memphis City Council and state approval, sales taxes generated in the zone would fund the project. The TDZ would extend to Cooper Young, Crosstown, and Broad Avenue.
When city officials touched on the plans previously announced last week to mothball the Coliseum, boos and shouts erupted in the room.
Not immediately demolishing or reviving it, the city would invest $500,000 to preserve it in its current state, by repairing the roof and controlling illegal entry.
Commenters explained that they felt the Coliseum is a significant landmark in the city with a rich musical and cultural history and should have a role in the plans.
But, Young told the crowd, “There’s a lot of passion that doesn’t line up with the numbers.”
Still, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said none of the discussed plans are final, but only a “menu” of what is possible for the Fairgrounds.
“My commitment to the taxpayers is to present a plan that is fiscally sound and doesn't over promise compared to what we can pay for,” Strickland said.
He said calculations on how much the city can afford to spend should be complete by the end of the year.
Early next year, city officials expect to deliver the plans to the city council for approval and then to the Tennessee Building Commission later that month.
If all goes according to plan, construction could begin in early 2019.