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VOL. 130 | NO. 23 | Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Wharton Administration Willing to Explore Coliseum Renovation

By Bill Dries

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Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. is willing to explore a renovation of the Mid-South Coliseum, but he doesn’t want to delay getting state approval for a Tourism Development Zone to finance an amateur sports tournament complex at the Mid-South Fairgrounds.

The Wharton administration is willing to explore what a renovation of the Mid-South Coliseum might involve. Meanwhile, some city council members said they would like to see any facility at the Fairgrounds host not only amateur sports tournaments but concerts and other events as well that were once the stock in trade of the Coliseum.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

Meanwhile, several Memphis City Council members said Tuesday, Feb. 3, they want the administration to think bigger than an indoor multipurpose sports complex for such tournaments.

“I don’t have a dog in the fight one way or another,” Housing and Community Development director Robert Lipscomb said. “I just want to make sure that whatever we construct there – be it a renovation of the Coliseum or a new building – it satisfies the need for our future market.”

The future market by Lipscomb’s definition is an amateur sports complex that can tap into the lucrative national market of families traveling nationwide for regional and national amateur athletic tournaments covering several dozen different sports.

But council member Harold Collins was among those on the council who called for an indoor facility that can have multiple courts or sports venues under one roof and also host concerts and large high school and college graduations as the Coliseum once did.

“If you’re going to ask us to get out here and spend that kind of money to develop it, then don’t limit ourselves,” Collins said. “Come up with a concept that will allow us to have the O’Jays and the Harlem Globetrotters the next day.

“Let’s not resign ourselves to be sitting back and waiting,” he said. “You know who we are competing against, Robert? Ourselves and our fear of failure.”

Kevin Kane, president of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, is a vocal proponent of demolishing the 50-year-old Coliseum.

“I hate to say this – we’re talking two buildings,” he said. “We are not talking about one building.”

The multipurpose indoor venue that the administration has previously proposed to replace the Coliseum would seat less than 5,000 with multiple courts and playing areas that could host basketball, volleyball and other tournaments.

“It makes no sense to build if we can’t put enough seats to compete on concerts,” Collins said, citing the no-compete clause with FedExForum and the Memphis Grizzlies that played a role in the mothballing of the 12,000-seat Coliseum along with issues with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“It is competing us out of our own community,” Collins said of the no compete clause citing concerts going to the 8,000-seat Landers Center in Southaven.

Architect Tom Marshall, who is a consultant to the administration, estimated last month that a renovation of the Coliseum would cost $30 million.

The administration reached out to critics of the still-tentative Fairgrounds plan and its financing as well as those who want to preserve, renovate and reopen the Coliseum under any plan for the larger Fairgrounds property.

The approach from City Hall came after the administration sent no one to a meeting last week in Midtown that was organized by critics of the plan. The meeting drew a standing-room only crowd at Circuit Playhouse.

“If we have to have more meetings, I’m fine with having more meetings,” Lipscomb said. “But let’s get the money too. It would be a shame to leave $300 million on the table. We have ample time to get this right and I’m willing to put it out there. This has to be a generational decision.”

The council has already approved the city’s pursuit of the Tourism Development Zone from the state Building Commission.

But when council member Jim Strickland asked specifically if the administration would seek council support before proceeding with specifics of the project, Lipscomb said future council votes are likely.

“We’ll bring it back to the council,” he said. “We have no problem with that.”

Council chairman Myron Lowery added, “The answer is always yes to that. This council will have final authority on each phase.”

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