Council Approves Liberty Bowl Upgrade Financing

By Bill Dries

The Memphis City Council approved up to $9 million in financing Tuesday, April 3, for improvements to the Liberty Bowl that come with the University of Memphis Tigers football team moving to the Big East athletic conference.

In the deal, FedEx Corp. agrees to guarantee $2.5 million for a new stadium Jumbotron and the university would make an annual guarantee of $500,000 more in tenant fees annually for 15 years to finance other improvements.

The additional university funding would come from Bowl Championship Series (BCS) fees the schools gets from being in the Big East.

The university and FedEx guarantees back up a plan by the Wharton administration to finance the stadium improvements with sales tax revenue from a tourism development zone that includes the Liberty Bowl.

The Herenton administration had plans to seek state permission for a TDZ for The Fairgrounds in general as part of its earlier plans for redevelopment of The Fairgrounds area in general. The TDZ status stalled as the ambitious plans for The Fairgrounds morphed into the more modest Tiger Lane project after Wharton became mayor.

In addition to the large video screen, the improvements include a new field.

Wharton administration officials hope to have the contract agreements with the university and FedEx signed in the next two to three months.

Council member Reid Hedgepeth, who worked on the terms up to the Tuesday council vote, said FedEx officials have indicated they would like to put up the money for the Jumbotron over several years.

In other action, the council approved the city’s application for $2 million in state Fast Track Infrastructure Development Grant funds for the plant renovation and expansion by K.T.G. USA Inc., the parent company of Kruger. No matching funding by the city is required to get the state money.

The council also approved the campus master plan for the India Culture Center & Temple Inc. at Highways 385 and 64.

And the council approved an option agreement in which Illinois Central Railroad Company would buy 800 acres in Frank C. Pidgeon Industrial Park for a price of $12,000 an acre to develop a Memphis Logistics Park. The 10-year option is with the Memphis and Shelby County Port Commission. It was approved in February by the Shelby County Commission.

Under the terms, more than 80 percent of the infrastructure cost would be paid by Canadian National Railway Co., the parent company of Illinois Central.