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VOL. 132 | NO. 158 | Thursday, August 10, 2017

Fairgrounds Crosses Liberty Bowl Playbook

By Bill Dries

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As the city starts anew the planning process for a more active Fairgrounds with more attractions, city council members want the Liberty Bowl to be more active as well.

The council approved Tuesday, Aug. 8, a new five-year contract with the University of Memphis for Tigers football home games. And the council will probably consider similar contracts later this month for the use of the Liberty Bowl by the AutoZone Liberty Bowl and Southern Heritage Classic.

But in the process, council members pushed Tuesday for more events at the stadium, including concerts. They want to talk with officials of Spectra, the Comcast division that manages the Liberty Bowl for the city.

“They have not done a great job here in the city of Memphis,” council member Jamita Swearengen said of attracting additional events to the stadium. She cited the $500,000 in city general fund money used to bridge the gap in revenue the stadium brings in versus the cost of operating the stadium.

Frank Colvett and other city council members would like to see to the Liberty Bowl used for more events, and for the Fairgrounds to become more active. (Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

The council, earlier this year, included $100,000 in the city budget for a study of structural changes to the Liberty Bowl to get it back in the concert business. The city is about to bring on a firm to do the architectural and design study.

Council member Frank Colvett pushed for the study and talked with concert promoters about why the big summer concert tours weren’t coming to Memphis.

The last concert at the stadium was 20 years ago when U2 played Memphis on its PopMart tour.

“The access points onto the field were so limited that they had to build the stage in pieces on the parking lot and cart it in,” Colvett said. “It took them a week whereas it normally takes them a day. They lost money.

“The study is to see how these tractor trailers can get onto the field to do their job, build the stage so we can get these shows,” he said. “You have seismic questions. You have structural questions. It’s not just take out your saw and cut concrete to allow access. They have to make sure the buildings can sustain it.”

City Parks and Neighborhoods director Maria Munoz-Blanco acknowledged that the Liberty Bowl has “higher production costs.”

“It is a very tough building to market to the concert world,” she told the council Tuesday.

Colvett said the ultimate question is how much it would cost the city.

“Memphis is the birthplace of rock ’n’ roll and the home of the blues and these bands aren’t playing Memphis,” he said. “That’s not acceptable.”

The expansion of access points for stage construction would not involve increasing seating in the stadium.

“If anything, I would think this work would eliminate some seating,” Colvett said. “We have to have a study to know what we are talking about.”

The discussion about a bigger stage load-in area and new leases for the nine football games a year at the Liberty Bowl come against the backdrop of the city’s renewed planning process for redevelopment of the Fairgrounds property that Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland announced less than a week ago.

The University of Memphis contract approved Tuesday, for a base stadium rent of $39,200 per game tied to the consumer price index and $50,000 per game for parking including at Tiger Lane, also has new language. The contract allows the city to make changes at the Fairgrounds that could affect parking and other activities outside the stadium without the city being financially liable to the university.

“The city will reserve the right to come back to them and amend the contract as needed to reflect any changes that are on the property because of the development of the Fairgrounds,” Munoz-Blanco said.

Both sides agree in the contract to talk about such changes in good faith and work toward an agreement if there is a plan for property that is used for parking, or property that would impact traffic ingress and egress at the Fairgrounds.

Strickland has said the goal of the Fairgrounds planning process is for other uses on the property that would make it more active most, if not all of the year.

Liberty Bowl tenants have expressed concern in the past about the impact of those plans on parking areas they fill each game.

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