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The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee)


Memphis officials set forth refined plans Tuesday to develop a nearly $100 million Fairgrounds sports complex grand enough to host such high-profile events as the Olympic Trials.

The project, building on a decade's worth of improvements in the 155-acre, city-owned Fairgrounds, would include a 185,000-square-foot indoor sports complex, an enhanced Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, and an outdoor track and playing field. Infrastructure also would be provided to accommodate future hotel and retail development.

"It's really putting a first-class facility right there in the middle of the city," said Paul Young, director of Housing & Community Development, who presented the plans to City Council members.

Funding to come from Tourism Development Zone

The main chunk of funding for the project, which is estimated to cost $95 million to $100 million, would come from a proposed Tourism Development Zone extending along commercial corridors to Overton Square, the Cooper-Young area, Crosstown and along portions of Union and Airways.

In a TDZ, the extra amount of sales tax revenue collected within an area after a project is built is returned to the zone to pay off the bonds used to finance the improvements.

Young said the proposed TDZ would generate an estimated $133 million over 30 years, enough to support $50 million in immediate bond proceeds.

Young said the city's application for the TDZ should be submitted to the state in late July or early August. The state Building Commission could approve it by October or November, he said.

Naming rights, philanthropic donations and contributions from stakeholders would provide much of the balance of the funding.

City officials said the funding plan meets the goal set by Mayor Jim Strickland to avoid using general-fund dollars on the project.

Complex to include indoor track, 12 basketball courts

Details of the plan show the indoor sports complex containing 12 hardwood basketball and volleyball courts, a hydraulic-banked indoor track that would rise from the surface for meets. The facility's high ceilings would accommodate gymnastics and cheer competitions as well as other events.

Also, the west tower of the Liberty Bowl, which contains the press box and suites, would be replaced, with other improvements planned in the stadium over a 10-year period.

Depending on the revenue flow, future projects could include improvements to nearby Tobey Park, enhancements to the Maxine Smith STEAM Academy and additional parking. Eventually, private developers could become interested in reactivating the now-closed Mid-South Coliseum, according to the city.

Young said the project would yield an economic impact of $978 million over 30 years. Impoverished neighborhoods such as nearby Orange Mound would benefit, he said.

The complex could put Memphis in contention for such prestigious events as Olympic Trials and AAU tournaments, he said.

Unlike previous iterations of a proposed youth sports complex, the new plan favors indoor events over such sports as baseball. However, a new outdoor track and playing field on the south side would replace the current on the north side. The Pipkin and Creative Arts buildings also are slated for improvements or repairs.

City hopes to host at least 50 events in first year

The city anticipates the site hosting 50 events during its first year rising to 80 or more by the fifth year, when the complex would reach break-even status. The facility would be open to Memphis on days when no events are scheduled.

Responding to a question from council member Martavius Jones, Young said an aquatic complex wasn't included in the plans because the University of Memphis' swimming facilities will be improved.

The Fairground area has been the focus of several projects completed during the past decade, including Tiger Lane tailgating area and the Kroc Center.

The revised plans come eight months after the city announced plans to develop a youth sports complex at the Fairgrounds and indefinitely mothball the Mid-South Coliseum.

Reach Tom Charlier at or 901-529-2572 and on Twitter at @thomasrcharlier.

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July 11, 2018


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