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VOL. 132 | NO. 154 | Friday, August 4, 2017

City Reopens Fairgrounds Planning Process

By Bill Dries

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About two weeks after unveiling a concept plan for Memphis riverfront development, Mayor Jim Strickland’s administration has reactivated a dormant city move to redevelop the Mid-South Fairgrounds.

By the end of the year, Strickland plans to have a specific enough plan for Fairgrounds redevelopment to take an application for a Tourism Development Zone to state officials for approval.

The city announced Wednesday, Aug. 2, it is reopening a planning process that has been dormant since an Urban Land Institute team came to Memphis in 2015 to study options for the Fairgrounds. The group’s recommendations scrapped a plan by then-Mayor A C Wharton that was heavy on commercial development at Central Avenue and East Parkway.

The Wharton administration’s plan also relied heavily on facilities to be used for amateur sports regional tournaments, but the ULI group thought the facilities should be smaller and more strategic.

The city has reopened the planning process for the Fairgrounds property with a goal of having some kind of proposal by the end of the year to submit with a Tourism Development Zone application to the state. (Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

“We are going to be using the 2015 plan as our basis from where we start. We are not starting this process from scratch,” said city Housing and Community Development Director Paul Young. “We are going to use what has been done to date and present that to the community. We want to see what works and what doesn’t work and craft a plan that allows us to move forward with a Tourism Development Zone application to the state which would make up the bulk of the funding for the project.”

The city begins a set of three public meetings Thursday, Aug. 10, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Salvation Army Kroc Center, 800 East Parkway S., near the southeast corner of Central and Parkway. That meeting will be an open house format with no formal presentation. It instead will include one-on-one discussions around reaction to past Fairgrounds plans.

The TDZ funding taken from sales tax revenue generated in a specific geographic area remains an essential part of financing new development at the 155-acre site. The Wharton administration had appeared poised to submit such an application but never did after unveiling a proposed zone that took in a broad area, including Overton Square and the Cooper-Young business district.

Strickland took office in January 2016 and acknowledged then that the Fairgrounds project was not an immediate priority.

Since then, the group Friends of the Fairgrounds has submitted a draft agreement it would like to pursue with the city for management of the property and its redevelopment. The administration is reviewing the proposal but has made no commitment other than reviewing it.

Other groups are also pushing specifically to keep the Mid-South Coliseum in some form, from a full restoration to a scaled-down open-air version recommended in the 2015 ULI report.

And the Children’s Museum of Memphis continues work on its new addition, which should make its debut later this year and will house the restored Grand Carousel.

“In order to go to the state we must have a plan worked out. We don’t necessarily have to solve every issue on the site,” Young said. “The Coliseum may be a decision that we explore after we have drafted a plan for the state to determine what we actually want to spend money on.”

Young added that the Strickland administration has no position at this point on whether the Coliseum stays or goes. Wharton’s plan at first called for the demolition of the 12,000-seat arena, which was built in the mid-1960s and has been mothballed for at least a decade.

As Young talked with reporters on Tiger Lane Wednesday afternoon, Southern Heritage Classic founder Fred Jones was meeting nearby with those involved in the annual September football match-up between Jackson State University and Tennessee State University.

Jones has complained that he and the other tenants of the Liberty Bowl Stadium – the University of Memphis and the AutoZone Liberty Bowl – weren’t consulted in the ULI report on the critical question of parking for the nine football games played at the stadium each year.

“The football game is always going to be a part of what’s going on here. … We have to design something for people to be able to park and have some kind of accommodation, especially since we don’t have mass transit,” Jones said. “All of the space you see all around here from Southern all the way to Central is taken, completely full.”

This time around, city officials say they are talking with Jones and the other stadium tenants.

“We know the parking is a significant concern and we take that into consideration with whatever plan comes about,” Young said. “But we also know this is a significant opportunity. So we want to do whatever we can to maximize it with the parking concerns in mind.”

Young said the city plans to work “pretty aggressively” over the next three months to make final decisions about ideas, concepts and plans that have “been on the table for a number of years.”

“What we want is balance. This is right in the center of this community. It’s a historic site that means a lot to this community. We want to make sure we maximize it,” he said. “We appreciate the economic value that happens on game day. It means a lot to this community to bring in all of the teams and the tourists that come to experience it. But we want to do that even more often and continue to add value to the community.”

PROPERTY SALES 23 23 1,365
MORTGAGES 21 21 1,068
BUILDING PERMITS 117 117 3,173