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VOL. 128 | NO. 198 | Thursday, October 10, 2013

Lipscomb: Fairgrounds Retail to be ‘Market Driven’

By Bill Dries

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Robert Lipscomb, director of the city of Memphis’ Division of Housing & Community Development, says the retail to be part of the city’s Fairgrounds overhaul will not be in competition with businesses in the nearby Cooper-Young Historic District or Overton Square.

Lipscomb also told a standing-room-only crowd of around 50 at the Cooper-Young Community Association on Tuesday, Oct. 8, that incremental sales tax revenue in a proposed 3-square-mile Tourism Development Zone would be used for a Cooper-Young parking garage if that is the consensus among businesses and residents.

“Some people want the (Mid-South) Coliseum demolished. Some don’t want the Coliseum demolished. Some want retail. Some don’t want retail,” Lipscomb said. “Some people want a Target. Some people don’t want a Target.”

But Lipscomb said Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s administration is moving ahead with a general plan to make the Fairgrounds “a world-class amateur-sports and athletics facility,” using incremental sales tax revenue from a proposed zone that contains the Fairgrounds in its southeast corner.

“I can’t imagine anyone being against that,” Lipscomb said of the zone proposal, which must be approved by state officials. The city’s 88-page application outlines a $233 million Fairgrounds project that began in 2005, when then-Mayor Willie Herenton floated the general idea, which originally included replacing Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium – an idea he quickly dropped.

The application talks in more general terms about the impact of the Tourism Development Zone in other retail parts of the zone, primarily the sales tax revenue those areas would generate for the Fairgrounds.

Lipscomb said whatever retail is on the Fairgrounds site would be “market-driven” to contribute to the sales tax revenue that remains in the zone.

“What can we have that’s market-driven that won’t hurt Cooper-Young?” one person at Tuesday’s meeting asked.

“I don’t know,” Lipscomb answered, as he rejected the idea of a Wal-Mart.

“Why would we want a Wal-Mart?” he asked. “The community has been very clear on that.”

But any specific direction on the retail element is something Lipscomb said would come from a master developer to be hired by the city to guide the project.

Commercial real estate agent James Rasberry quizzed Lipscomb on what RKG Associates Inc. based its analysis of the retail potential and sales tax revenue.

“They are making assumptions on something,” Rasberry said.

Lipscomb offered to put Rasberry in contact with RKG officials for a more specific look at how they arrived at their conclusions.

Business owner Charlie Ryan pointed to the goal listed in the application of having $15 million in private investments in restaurants.

“Is that going to be a Macaroni Grill?” he asked.

“We don’t know,” Lipscomb answered, saying the choice of retailers would have to strike a “delicate balance” with other locally owned businesses in the general area.

Lipscomb and Shelby County Commissioner Steve Basar differed on whether the incremental tax revenue collected in the zone for the Fairgrounds would consist entirely of revenue that would otherwise go into state coffers in Nashville or whether it takes a bite out of local education funding.

Basar contends it includes some local education funding. Lipscomb was adamant that it would not.

Keeping the money from going to Nashville for distribution to other parts of the state was a point to which Lipscomb returned repeatedly.

Basar said intended to pursue the point Wednesday, Oct. 9, during Shelby County Commission committee sessions.

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