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VOL. 125 | NO. 174 | Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Time to Shine Lights on Tiger Lane

By Bill Dries

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The $15 million Tiger Lane project at the Mid-South Fairgrounds will get a “blue” opening Wednesday evening.

The blue isn’t from the University of Memphis Tigers’ opening loss of the football season. It is strings of blue lights from the East Parkway entrance to the western wall of the Liberty Bowl stadium.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and other dignitaries will flip the switch on the lights at 7:30 to mark the opening of the project, which includes greenspace, additional parking areas, two new roads into the fairgrounds and a western pedestrian gate entrance to the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.

The ceremony comes three months after the terms and cost of the Tiger Lane remake were set with a Memphis City Council vote. It also comes days before Saturday’s opening of the football season at the Liberty Bowl with the Southern Heritage Classic. The classic is the first test of the fairgrounds improvements aimed specifically at creating a better environment for tailgating.

Read more about Tiger Lane in the current issue of The Memphis News (www.memphisdailynews.com).

Nearby, the Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center is beginning to take shape with frontage on East Parkway. The recreation center was a done deal before then-Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton’s administration’s idea of a Fairgrounds master plan with a master developer gathered steam, then released it and moved a few political inches into limbo as Herenton left office a year and a month ago.

Interim mayor Myron Lowery pushed the idea of a greenspace as an interim step. Demolition of Libertyland began as Lowery left office in October. Groundbreaking for the work was the day before the October election.

The work began but no one at City Hall seemed to have been watching it closely as Lowery left office and Wharton took office.

When bulldozers demolishing what was left of Libertyland began tearing up the parking lots between Libertyland and the Mid-South Coliseum in February, Southern Heritage Classic founder Fred Jones began calling city leaders.

He and the other two Liberty Bowl tenants, the University of Memphis and the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, didn’t see progress. They saw fewer parking spaces for those who buy tickets for their events.

With the mayor’s office in transition, Memphis City Council chairman Harold Collins moved quickly to reconcile the immediate needs of the stadium tenants with a project that was adrift.

He and the council deserve a lot of the credit, said AutoZone Liberty Bowl executive director Steve Ehrhardt.

“It’s a two plus two equals five because not only the ground area is cleaned up but the stadium looks so much better,” he said in talking about the old buildings and livestock barns from the old Mid-South Fair demolished as part of the Tiger Lane improvements.

”You’re not fighting through 80-year-old buildings and cow manure and barbed wire.”

Whatever plan there was had to be started in June to be finished by Sept. 11, the date of the Classic. The council picked the plan that added $2 million to the cost and two new roads with 90 days to kickoff.

“They understood it,” said Ehrhardt. “There was a question mark. Are we going to do this part way or all the way?”

Collins put council member Reid Hedgepeth, a developer and builder, in charge of a committee that included all three tenants as well as the city agencies directly involved.

PROPERTY SALES 70 275 21,235
MORTGAGES 72 278 24,410
BUILDING PERMITS 178 499 43,933
BANKRUPTCIES 54 146 13,614