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VOL. 131 | NO. 191 | Friday, September 23, 2016

Music, Rec Facilities in the Works at U of M

BY LANCE WIEDOWER, Special to The Daily News

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The Tennessee Board of Regents is helping pave the way for the University of Memphis to build a $44 million on-campus music center instead of an already approved biochemistry and biology building.

Artist’s rendering of the $53 million student rec center at the University of Memphis. Other projects in the works include a $44 million music center and a land bridge.


The TBR has granted the U of M’s request to substitute the music center building project for an earlier request to build a $36 million biochemistry and biology building. Coming in at 40,000 square feet, the music center would be located along Central Avenue, near the school’s Holiday Inn. The request was granted at the Tennessee Board of Regents’ quarterly meeting in Chattanooga Sept. 15-16.

That news comes as the university has filed a $53 million building permit application with the city-county Office of Construction Code Enforcement for the recreation center slated to be built south of the main campus along Southern Avenue.

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The new on-campus student recreation facility at 3798 Southern Ave. will include an 1/3-mile indoor track, basketball and racquetball courts, fitness studios and open fitness areas, among other things. Construction will begin this fall and wrap before fall 2018 classes begin, according to the university’s website.

That project will be adjacent to the southern terminus of a land bridge that will go over Southern Avenue and the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks, providing safe pedestrian access to the main campus. It’s what school President Dr. David Rudd this summer told The Daily News is the “single most transformational structure ever constructed by the University of Memphis.”

The project, currently in design, is slated for completion in 2019.

Construction dates for the new music center for the Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music aren’t set, but an important hurdle was cleared with the Tennessee Board of Regents’ recent action.

State funding for the music center, meanwhile, faces a few more steps.

The $36 million biochemistry building had been approved for $26.4 million in state funding. With the price tag on the music center coming in a $44 million, the university requested the state’s portion be increased to $33 million.

But according to documents from the board’s recent meeting, the TBR’s Finance and Business Operations Committee recommended the substitution be approved on the condition that state funding be increased by no more than 10 percent over the amount approved for the biochemistry project, for a total amount just shy of $29 million.

The funding request now goes to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission as part of TBR’s fiscal 2017-18 capital budget recommendation. THEC will review it along with construction projects from other universities and give its recommendation to the state Department of Finance. Ultimately, TBR’s 2017-18 budget will have to be approved by the state General Assembly when it meets next spring.

Documents from TBR’s recent meeting state Rudd “has asserted that at this time the Music Center is the highest campus capital project priority.”

“Regarding the Biochemistry Building, the President has noted that technology changes make it possible for the campus to meet its needs in these fields with renovations to existing space,” the board materials state. “As such the Biochemistry Building is no longer the campus’ highest priority.”

Board approval also was recommended based on matching funds available for the music center, adding that “substantial commitments have been made by a small number of donors” who donated with the expectation that the project would move forward in a timely basis.

In January, the university kicked off the “Take Your Seat” campaign to raise funds for the music center, which will more than double the space of the current 50-year-old building.

The new center will allow the Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music to play host to larger-scale productions and community programs by addressing the current issues of lack of stage space, seating and acoustically appropriate spaces.

In May, the university and the Memphis Symphony Orchestra unveiled a partnership to create a destination for music training and performance, music outreach and arts-centered community development. The Memphis Symphony Orchestra in Residence at the University of Memphis offers an on-campus series as well as performances at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts Downtown.

A larger music center on campus will better accommodate those performances. The three-year partnership also helps reduce the annual operating budget for the cash-strapped MSO by 40 percent. The organization also will reduce costs by relocating its offices to campus, a move slated to happen the second week of October, MSO’s Jason Barnett said.

Rudd was traveling and unavailable for comment for this story, but in May he told The Daily News that the partnership between the university and symphony provides multiple points of intersection for the two institutions.

“A stable, sustainable symphony benefits not just the city but the university as well,” he said at the time. “This partnership raises the overall visibility of the university and gives our students access to a professional musical organization. It also gives us a unique opportunity for a range of things within the community.”

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