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$100-Million Development Planned For Former Mid-South Fairgrounds

A 185,000-square foot indoor sports complex will be the centerpiece of a planned $95-100 million phase of development at the former Mid-South Fairgrounds in a p...
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City of Memphis leaders hope ‘less is more’ to get the state to sign on to a Tourism Development Zone at the former Mid-South Fairgrounds site.

The Memphis City Council learned Tuesday of a new slimmed down, redrawn plan to bring new life and tax dollars to the vacant land in midtown. City leaders want to get this application sent to the state by the end of the month, since no TDZs will be considered after the end of this year.

After more than a decade of brainstorming, those who crafted this final proposal said it will draw tourists and locals alike.

If last November’s fairgrounds TDZ proposal was a complete wish list, Tuesday’s final plan is a smaller but substantial wish list for the area around the Liberty Bowl and Mid-South Coliseum.

The new plan would focus on three major areas; building an indoor youth sports complex, improving the Pipkin and Creative Arts buildings, and adding a new parking garage. The coliseum would still be ‘mothballed’ until a credible investor came forward.

A TDZ uses sales tax dollars generated in nearby areas to pay for the development over time. Those proposed taxable boundaries include Cooper-Young, Overton Square, and Crosstown Concourse.

The lead designers of the final TDZ plan said this kind of potential project comes along once a generation.

“It’s a game changing opportunity for us to take an underutilized asset and activate it to where it has a $1 billion impact on this local economy and I think everybody would see this as a win,” said Paul Young, the director of Housing and Community Development.

This project would not include city of Memphis general fund dollars, which cover things like police and fire.

If the state approves the Fairgrounds TDZ, construction could begin as early as late 2019 or early 2020.


A 185,000-square foot indoor sports complex will be the centerpiece of a planned $95-100 million phase of development at the former Mid-South Fairgrounds in a plan presented today by the Division of Housing & Community Development to the City Council

The proposed phase also includes an improved Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, a new outdoor track and playing field, and infrastructure for a hotel and retail development. This follows a decade-long phase of improvements to the site that includes the popular Kroc Center and Tiger Lane developments.

The lion’s share of the funding for the development would come from state designation of a Tourism Development Zone (TDZ), which the City first stated its intent to apply for in 2007. A TDZ uses sales taxes generated from the project itself to pay for the project — thus meeting Mayor Jim Strickland’s goal to not use general fund dollars that pay for core City services on this project. 

The plan’s presentation today came after Mayor Strickland’s 2017 directive to bring the years-long Fairgrounds planning discussion to a productive end. In a public process last year, some 400 ideas were considered alongside previous studies and recommendations. 

Here is a rendering of the proposed plan:

Among the key components of the plan presented Tuesday:

  • The proposed indoor sports complex would include room for 12 hard basketball/volleyball courts, a hydraulic-banked indoor track that would rise out of the surface for events, high ceilings for sports like gymnastics and cheerleading, and easy setup for trade shows and special events. The indoor track would be among fewer than a dozen that already exist in the country, and the indoor sports complex is the only one within a 210-mile radius.
  • Improvements to Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium would include the replacement of the west tower, which currently contains the press box and some suites. In a 10-year improvement plan developed in conjunction with the University of Memphis, access to suites would be increased, concessions and restrooms would be improved, and signage and digital displays would be upgraded.
  • Other site improvements include a new outdoor track and playing field on the south end of the Fairgrounds to replace the one on the north side, exterior improvements to the Pipkin Building, repairs to the Creative Arts Building, and lighting improvements to nearby Southern Avenue underpasses.
  • As for parking, the site will lose the capacity for about 2,300 cars that currently park on the grass on the old Libertyland site — spaces that did not exist about a decade ago. A 285-car garage is planned adjacent to the sports building, with the first floor dedicated to buses. A 300-car lot is planned next to the exterior field. Current lots would be re-striped to maximize spaces, and the City would continue to identify alternate parking spots and transit options for major events such as football games.
  • Opportunities for private development — such as a hotel, retail, restaurant, and residential — will exist on the north side of the site, bordering Central Avenue.

Dependent on the revenue produced by this phase, a future phase of development could include improvements to nearby Tobey Park, more parking, and improvements to Maxine Smith STEAM Academy. The success of the proposed phase could also lead to private developer interest that could result in some type of private-sector activation for the closed Mid-South Coliseum. 

For the indoor sports complex alone, projections include 50 events and 95-plus event days in the first year, rising to 80-plus events and 145-plus event days by the fifth year. The facility is projected to break even in its fifth year. The facility will also be open to use by Memphians on non-event days.

In its first 30 years, the complex (concept exterior rendering below) is projected to have an economic impact of just shy of $1 billion. 

How much will it cost? 

The total project cost is estimated at between $95 and $100 million. Of that, the sports building and garage estimated cost is $55-60 million. 

Revenues from the TDZ would be the largest primary contributor — roughly $40-50 million. Naming rights, sponsorships, and philanthropy and stakeholder contributions are estimated to produce $25-35 million; City infrastructure and Parks funds already planned to be used over the next 20 years to maintain Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium would produce $10-15 million; tax credits would produce some $4-5 million; and an estimated $2-4 million could come from a transit contribution to the garage. 

Mayor Strickland’s charge has been to not use the City’s general fund — which pays for core services such as Police and Fire — for projects like these, and the funding plan fulfills that charge. 

What’s next? 

Today’s presentation to the City Council was informative in nature; a formal vote on the plan’s approval could come as early as the July 24 meeting. State law requires a Council resolution authorizing the submission of the revised application. 

The state also requires the Shelby County Board of Commissioners, which is the local funder of schools, to send a resolution of its opinion on the project — whether that be in support, neutral, or against. A County Commission vote could come on July 23. 

The state said earlier this year that it will no longer consider TDZ applications after Dec. 31. Once the City and County hurdles are passed, the TDZ application could be before the State Building Commission at its September, October, November, or December meetings. 

If approved by the SBC, financing steps — including scrutiny by bond underwriters and City Council and SBC approval of bond particulars — would get underway. 

Learn more:

PDF of today’s full City Council presentation

Fairgrounds project website