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VOL. 128 | NO. 7 | Thursday, January 10, 2013

Liberty Bowl Moves Raise Questions About Coliseum

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members approved $12 million in funding Tuesday, Jan. 8, for the coming design and renovation of Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium to make it comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Memphis City Council has approved $12 million in funding for work at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium to make it comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

(Daily News File Photo: Lance Murphey)

And the architect working on that project as well as the overall Mid-South Fairgrounds renovation for the administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. told council members plans for the Mid-South Coliseum are still to come “very, very soon.”

But a city division director said the tentative plan is to demolish the coliseum, built in the mid-1960s at about the same time as the stadium.

City Parks and Neighborhoods division director Janet Hooks said the administration’s tentative plans are to demolish the coliseum, which has been closed for several years because of ADA issues. Before that, the coliseum’s box office suffered when it was included in a no-compete agreement that allowed the managers of FedExForum the ability to block shows and events at the coliseum.

Hooks, whose division includes responsibility for operation of the Liberty Bowl and the coliseum, commented when council member Wanda Halbert asked about plans for the coliseum.

“That would be a project under (housing and community development),” Hooks said. “It is my understanding that eventually … as part of the redevelopment of the Fairgrounds that it will be torn down.”

Architect Tom Marshall, a former council member, said later no final decision has been made.

“The coliseum is something you will ultimately decide,” he told council members. “It’s not being decided without you.”

The Wharton administration negotiated a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department on bringing the stadium up to ADA standards but not the coliseum. The terms of the settlement were announced late last year and include a renovation that must be done in a year.

Marshall said the original plan was for the 65,000-seat Liberty Bowl to lose 10,000 seats in making more room for handicapped or disabled patrons. Under the settlement plan, the stadium will lose 2,000 seats in the transition.

The goal is to complete the work by the time the annual Southern Heritage Classic football game between Jackson State University and Tennessee State University is played in September.

For that reason, Marshall said the Liberty Bowl renovations are moving ahead of other plans for the Fairgrounds property including the coliseum.

Council members Kemp Conrad and Lee Harris voted against the budget amendment for the project.

Meanwhile, the council approved another resolution tied to the Liberty Bowl project that transfers $78,198 from operation of the coliseum to pay utilities at the stadium and it transferred the $29,000 line item to pay the coliseum’s building manager to the Memphis Animal Shelter, where the city employee will perform similar duties he has been doing at the coliseum.

The administration’s $12 million price tag for Liberty Bowl renovations, originally estimated at more than $40 million during former Mayor Willie Herenton’s administration, would effectively be an advance on sales tax revenue to be captured in a Tourism Development Zone.

The boundaries for the zone the Wharton administration intends to propose to state leaders in Nashville would include the Overton Square Entertainment District in the zone.

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