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VOL. 128 | NO. 6 | Wednesday, January 9, 2013

City Liberty Bowl Moves Raise Questions About Coliseum

By Bill Dries

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

And the architect working on that project as well as the overall Fairgrounds renovation for the administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. told council members Tuesday, Jan. 8, plans for the Mid-South Coliseum are still to come.

However, 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.

Hooks, whose division includes responsibility for operation of the Liberty Bowl and the Coliseum, made the comment 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. The goal is to complete it 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 the Herenton 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.

Meanwhile the council delayed until Feb. 5 a vote on third and final reading of a “wage theft” ordinance. Council member Myron Lowery called for the delay saying he wanted to wait until the Shelby County Commission takes its final vote later this month on the same ordinance.

Lowery also said negotiations are underway with the Memphis Restaurant Association and the Memphis Hotel-Motel Association on the terms of the ordinance. Both industry associations have expressed concerns about the original draft.

The council also approved a resolution asking the state for grant money to help pay the cost of infrastructure improvements for the $300 million expansion of the Nike plant in Frayser. And the council approved two street-alley closures related to the expansion near New Allen Road and Frayser Bouelvard.

The council approved a special use permit for a new four-story 87-room Holiday Inn Express and Suites on Elvis Presley Boulevard.

The site of the Hernando Place hotel is on 3.49 acres that is now a vacant lot on the west side of Elvis Presley Boulevard near Winchester with entrances and exits on Hernando Road.

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