When I moved to Memphis from Pittsburgh in the early 1990s, my son, who was 11 at the time, was a hockey player. He worshipped Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins. He'd even been to a Stanley Cup finals game. His greatest fear about moving South was that he wouldn't be able to play hockey.
So I asked around, and it turned out, there was a local youth hockey league. At the group's pre-season organizational meeting, when they learned we were from Pittsburgh, they asked if I could skate. "A little," I said. Then they asked if I knew the rules of hockey. "Yes," I said, "pretty much."
"Good," they said. "You're a coach."
And so, for the next three years, I spent many nights and afternoons in the Mid-South Coliseum, coaching the "red team." We took the "big ice" whenever we could get it. The only other rink in town was at the Mall of Memphis, where spectators carried shopping bags and munched fast food and wondered out loud what the hell them kids were up to.
So, for what it's worth, the Coliseum used to be a great spot for at least one "youth sport" — which is the foundation around which the city's proposed Tourism Development Zone (TDZ) is being spun. But, as Toby Sells' cover story makes clear, the place has been mothballed since 2006 and, depending on whose numbers you believe, it will take many millions to bring it back to viability. In the meantime, the local youth hockey program has moved to Southaven, along with most of the concerts that would logically work well at the old 11,000-seat venue.
Now, a growing movement to stop the destruction of the Coliseum is running smack-dab into the city's plan to reinvent the Fairgrounds. Both sides have work to do before the issue is decided.
As others have pointed out in these pages, the city is asking taxpayers to trust the city to be able to "develop" the Fairgrounds without putting all the cards on the table. We don't know who or what might move in. A hotel? What kind of hotel? Youth sports? Really? The competition in that market is fierce. Retail? Big box? Boutique? Fast food? There are lots of loose parts in play.
In the case of two other iconic local public-private partnerships — the Bass Pro Pyramid and the Sears Crosstown Building — the partners are known and the surrounding neighborhoods are pretty firmly behind the projects. In Cooper Young, on the other hand, opposition is building to the TDZ plan, in general, and to the destruction of the Coliseum, in particular.
Maybe a compromise can be concocted. Maybe not. But it would behoove the city not to ignore the will of a determined bunch of citizens. There's a reason that I-40 doesn't run through the middle of Overton Park. Memphians can be a stubborn bunch. And if you try to cross the blue line ahead of the puck, they will check you.