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VOL. 132 | NO. 226 | Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Landers Loss Factored Into Coliseum Not Being in Plan

By Bill Dries

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The probability of a repurposed Mid-South Coliseum running an operating deficit as part of a youth sports tournament complex at the Fairgrounds was what prompted Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and his administration to put a renovation of the arena on hold for now.

Paul Young

“Initially it was the way I thought it could work,” Memphis Housing and Community Development director Paul Young said on the WKNO/Channel 10 program “Behind The Headlines.” “I thought it would work if we planned it as a part of that facility. When we started looking at the actual cost and what it took to renovate the building … the youth sports (complex) did not bring enough events to that structure to operate it in a manner where it would not have a deficit on an annual basis.”

The nonprofit Coliseum Coalition recommended the coliseum be repurposed to serve as a part of the complex, possibly attached to a new building to add courts beyond the three the coliseum could hold, according to the coalition’s plan.

Instead, Strickland and his administration went with a recommendation that the city build a new $80 million complex in the southeast corner of the Fairgrounds where the Libertyland theme park once stood.

Young said the administration’s financial considerations included looking at the operating costs of the 10,000-seat Landers Center arena in Southaven, Mississippi. Landers Center operates at a $3.5 million deficit annually that is made up with sales tax revenues.

“We don’t have that luxury. We don’t have a luxury of having that tax that can manage the operating side,” he said. “TDZ (Tourism Development Zone) funds can’t be used for operational expenses. When people hear these dollar amounts, they have this image that we are looking to pull the wool over their eyes. We are exploring every way possible … are their options for other adaptive reuses other than an arena.”

Behind The Headlines, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.

The city will finance a good part of the Fairgrounds redevelopment with sales tax increment revenues generated in a Tourism Development Zone that the city will ask the state building commission to approve early next year. The Memphis City Council and Shelby County Commission must approve the overall plan first.

The TDZ is three square miles and includes the Fairgrounds, Overton Square and the Cooper-Young business district.

“The idea with the TDZ is that you would build something that is going to draw a large number of people who will spend money in various locations,” Young said. “Our goal is to try to figure out where will they spend the bulk of their money. That’s why you see areas like Overton Square and Cooper-Young carved in. We also wanted to carve in the Lamar-Airways shopping center because our hope is that we’ll also see an investment of dollars in this area as well.”

Plans for a redeveloped Fairgrounds have been considered by the administrations of the last three Memphis mayors, including Strickland, but financing the improvements with TDZ sales tax revenue has been a constant. So has pushback from critics who argue that a youth sports complex, depending on how intensely it is used for tournaments, amounts to choosing a Fairgrounds for tourists rather than a Fairgrounds for Memphians.

“We heard that loud and clear – that the community wants to make sure that this is something that is built not only for tourists, generating that economic activity – but something that Memphians can benefit from,” Young acknowledged.

He pointed to basketball court pavilions around the complex open for the public use that would be adaptable for other kinds of community events. Developers will sign a “community benefits agreement” that includes provisions for community use of the complex itself as well as job guarantees.

“Things like local hiring. Things like offering a free or reduced priced usage for the community at certain times,” Young said. “The facility is going to be hopping on the weekend. But during the week there are opportunities to program things for the local community.”

The complex will also feature an indoor track that could be used by track teams at the University of Memphis, Rhodes College, LeMoyne-Owen College and Christian Brothers University.

The youth sports complex site is currently used as parking for football games and the city is still searching for a way to make up for the loss of an estimated 2,200 unpaved parking spaces used by Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium’s three tenants – the University of Memphis football program, the Southern Heritage Classic and the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

“They are all concerned and we understand those concerns,” Young said. “We’re trying to figure out are there ways we can look at traffic management. Parking is one concern but the other concern is how do you manage the flow of traffic during game days.”

Some of the solutions include re-striping existing parking areas to find new parking spaces. And the administration is likely to call for the use of shuttles and other forms of public transportation for game days at the Liberty Bowl even as critics argue that Memphians don’t use such shuttles.

“We have to start thinking like a major city, thinking about using innovative ways to address challenges,” Young said. “We are not the only community that has a stadium that doesn’t have a lot of parking around it. I don’t want to minimize the importance of those events. Fifty to sixty thousand people in one space – that’s an important thing for our community. But we have to figure out ways to maximize this opportunity that is right here in the middle of our city.”

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