"Consensus" was the magic word at a Cooper-Young Community Association (CYCA) meeting Tuesday night about the city's plans for redevelopment of the Mid-South Fairgrounds.
The city filed an application with the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration in mid-September requesting Tourism Development Zone (TDZ) status for the fairgrounds to help pay for a $233 million plan to construct an amateur sports complex with retail and other attractions on 155-plus acres.
Robert Lipscomb, the city's director of housing and community development, gave a brief presentation to the standing-room-only crowd gathered at the CYCA office. He touched on why the city wants to make the fairgrounds a Tourism Development Zone and what that means, as well as emphasizing that the retail and sports complexes should be popular enough to draw visitors from outside the area without competing for the businesses already in Cooper-Young and nearby Overton Square.
Several citizens voiced concerns over what will go into the development. One man asked if it was possible that a Walmart could be opened there as a woman in the back of the room quietly echoed his sentiments with "no big box retail." Lipscomb scoffed and said, "Why would we want a Walmart? The community has been very clear that they do not want a Walmart."
Other than the planned sportsplex, Lipscomb couldn't give specifics about what would go into fairgrounds area. He said that would be decided after a "world-class developer" was hired to make that plan, which he said wouldn't happen until the city got its TDZ classification from the state for the fairgrounds. That is expected to happen in November or December. Several residents stressed the importance of consensus. They told Lipscomb they want to be included in the process so no undesirable retailers are brought into the area. Lipscomb promised he would grant more meetings to keep the public informed.
Emily Ward with Memphis Roller Derby spoke up to ask about the size of the new sports facility. The derby currently rents the Pipkin building on the fairgrounds site for their practices and bouts. That building will likely be demolished if fairgrounds redevelopment moves forward.
"We can sell out the Pipkin, but we can't fill [an arena] the size of the FedExForum," Ward said.
Lipscomb said he didn't yet know specifics about the size of the new facility, but he said it should cater to a number of sports organizations. And he added that he's a fan of roller derby.
A few voiced concerns over the TDZ classification. With that classification, a portion of the sales tax revenue generated from businesses on a public use site pay for its redevelopment rather than going back to the state.
"Rather than give that money to the state and let them do what they want, let us keep it here and use it for our best interest," Lipscomb said.
Lipscomb admitted the getting TDZ status for the fairgrounds could be a little risky if the businesses on-site don't make enough money. But he didn't seem too worried that would be an issue.
"We are taking a step of creating a world-class attraction," Lipscomb said. "So do we run in place and do nothing? Or do we take a risk and do creative things that cost the local taxpayer nothing?"