Tax Zone Would Benefit Fairgrounds

By Bill Dries

The Tourism Development Zone that Memphis officials will seek in Nashville over the next three months would generate tax revenue from Cooper-Young, the Midtown Union Avenue corridor and Overton Square for the redevelopment of the Mid-South Fairgrounds.

The Tourism Development Zone Memphis officials will seek in Nashville over the next three months would generate tax revenue for the redevelopment of the Mid-South Fairgrounds. 

(Daily News File Photo: Lance Murphey)

But the sales tax revenue captured also would be used long term for other areas within the zone, including the Beltline neighborhood east of the fairgrounds, Orange Mound, Cooper-Young and Overton Square.

Memphis City Council members gave their formal blessing Tuesday, Feb. 19, to starting the TDZ application process. They also got a look at the developing fairgrounds plan Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. says is on the way to the council soon.

The developing plan includes demolition of the Mid-South Coliseum to make way for a “sports complex” by the southern border of the fairgrounds and a possible improvement of the McDonald’s restaurant on the other side of East Parkway.

City Community and Housing Development division director Robert Lipscomb said the TDZ application could be submitted to the state building commission in Nashville by April and estimated the process of getting the zone would take about three months.

The estimate is based on the city’s experience with the Tourism Development Zone financing of the Bass Pro Shops adaptive reuse of The Pyramid.

“You have a baseline and once they establish a baseline, any incremental sales taxes will come back to the city as opposed to going to the state,” Lipscomb said. “Any sales taxes over and above the baseline will come back to this project and come back to the city.

“It allows you to gerrymander a little bit so that you capture the most … sales tax dollars,” he said. “That allows us to capture the most dollars. It’s a mile from the qualified public use facility. But you try to maximize that.”

The borders of the TDZ are North Parkway on the north, Belvedere Boulevard on the west, Southern Avenue on the south and Hollywood and Tillman streets to the east.

“It’s all about getting resources,” Lipscomb said as he talked of a projected 6.5 percent debt service rate from the zone. “If we don’t have the resources to do it, it’s worthless.”

Wharton said the sales tax revenue from the area would be used at first to finance the fairgrounds improvements, which include retail and residential on the Central Avenue northern side of the property.

“Once we declare the TDZ there will be other projects coming on line, whether it’s parking in Cooper-Young, which is needed, whether it’s bringing to completion the project over in Overton Square,” Wharton said. “The money will be spent within the TDZ but the initial project is the fairgrounds. You set a budget for each of the projects within the TDZ.”

Lipscomb said the idea also is to use the sales tax revenue to leverage private investment in the residential neighborhoods around the fairgrounds, “improve Beltline and go as far into Orange Mound as we can.”

Lipscomb added the city is talking with former pro baseball player and broadcaster Tim McCarver as well as NBA player Thaddeus Young about the sports complex where the coliseum now stands.

He acknowledged the complex might cause the three football tenants of Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium some concern because it will mean eliminating some parking in that area.

It’s an issue they have been sensitive to in the past as the Tiger Lane area was developed and parking lots just west of the coliseum were turned into green space as Libertyland was demolished.

“The three tenants for football have to understand that this is a balancing act between making the parking good and accessible,” Lipscomb said. “At the same time we don’t want it so convenient that people get in their cars or truck and leave.”

Several council members reacted by clearing their throats loudly as Lipscomb broached the subject of the coliseum’s future.

“Our intent is to demolish the coliseum,” Lipscomb said. “It’s subject to the non-compete clause,” he said referring to the contract agreement with the Memphis Grizzlies involving the use of other competing arenas.

“You can’t use it anyway,” he said. “We wanted to make sure people understood we are going to move ahead with demolition. It is just sitting there unused with cobwebs and we can’t use it anyway.”