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VOL. 132 | NO. 221 | Tuesday, November 7, 2017

City's Tentative Fairgrounds Plan Confirms Separating Coliseum from Youth Sports

By Bill Dries

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Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s tentative plan for the redevelopment of the Mid-South Fairgrounds, presented Monday, Nov. 6, included a renovation of old Melrose High School in neighboring Orange Mound and a confirmation that the city administration doesn’t think the Mid-South Coliseum should be part of a youth sports tournament complex.

A youth sports tournament complex is the anchor of the city's still tentative proposal for a redevelopment of the Fairgrounds. It would be on the East Parkway side of the Fairgrounds where Libertyland once stood. (City of Memphis/SFA Advisory)

A public meeting at the Salvation Army Kroc Center at the fairgrounds Monday evening drew a standing-room-only crowd of 300 for a review of what the city thinks it might propose at this point.

Strickland emphasized the plan is still a tentative one that will likely change once the city knows how much money it can spend on a project that has a lot of parts.

“It is not the final step. It is the next step,” Strickland said. “My commitment to the taxpayers is to present a plan that is fiscally sound and doesn’t overpromise compared to what we can pay for. … Think about what you see tonight as menu of what’s possible. … There is a strong possibility we will have to choose what we want.”

Much of the emphasis from the administration Monday evening was on the community/youth sports complex, which would be south of the Coliseum with a new multisports building on the East Parkway frontage on the western side of Early Maxwell, where the Libertyland theme park once stood. A track oval with a football and soccer field in the center would be next to the multisports building, relocated from its present site on Central Avenue.

View/download city's Fairgrounds presentation (PDF, 3.8 MB)

The complex accounts for $80 million of the $160.1 million tentative city capital budget. It is the largest dollar item on the list. That amount doesn’t include the football/soccer/track oval, which is another $3 million.

Dev Pathik, the consultant working with the city on the development of the sports complex, said before the meeting the $80 million figure is a “placeholder” pending a pro forma he and his firm, Sports Facilities Advisory of Clearwater, Florida, will deliver to the city in December.

Pathik described it as “a Wall Street-ready forecast” build on comparables from other facilities and their experience as opposed to demographics for the potential market for such tournaments.

“That process will right-size the development,” Pathik said. “It will say, 'Here’s how much you should build. Here’s what you should spend. Here’s what you shouldn’t spend. Here’s what you should focus on.'”

City Housing and Community Development director Paul Young said without a youth sports complex that draws tourists or visitors, the city doesn’t have a justification for the tourism development zone revenue stream from sales tax growth. And that TDZ revenue would finance what probably will be a good part of the overall fairgrounds development, however it ends up being configured.

Pathik said making the Coliseum a part of such a complex, as the Coliseum Coalition group had recommended, didn't work.

"To redo that facility is rather expensive by comparison of what you could get in terms of floor space available, total number of courts in a new building," Pathik said. "It's not likely going to be the case that the Coliseum – it's pro forma gets to a number that would satisfy the amount of money it would take to redo it."

Around the Fairgrounds property, the city would improve railroad underpasses along Southern Avenue at Josephine and Boston that are key entry points from the Orange Mound neighborhood, do streetscape improvements to the East Parkway viaduct over Southern, reopen a Young Avenue entrance to the Fairgrounds, and extend the Shelby Farms Greenline from Flicker Street to the Fairgrounds and from there to Cooper-Young.

The plan also includes two other projects outside the fairgrounds footprint that would total $5 million – a preservation and adaptive reuse of old Melrose High School with the uses including a museum – and infrastructure improvements to make the Lamar-Airways retail area more of a gateway to the fairgrounds and hopefully encourage private investment.

The second-highest dollar figure in the capital budget is $20 million for improvements to Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.

The city also will include in contracts for each part of the fairgrounds redevelopment what are called “community benefits agreements” – legally binding agreements with developers, retailers, management firms and tenants to set out local employment requirements, wages, job training and community access to the spaces.

The city’s estimate of tourism development zone revenue for the fairgrounds zone isn’t complete yet, but the administration says it already knows the revenue from just that won’t be enough to fund the entire project. Other funding sources include new market tax credits, state and federal grants, private debt and equity and corporate sponsorships.

The city’s goal is to begin construction on some phases of the fairgrounds project in 2019.

Proponents of a renovation and reuse of the Coliseum argued last week that the city could at least reactivate the concourse areas of the arena for smaller events outside of the seating bowl that makes up the main part of the venue.

Those proponents were vocal at Monday's session, booing as city officials repeated dollar estimates. The jeers and boos were balanced with cheers from other parts of the audience reacting to the part of the plan that would find a use for old Melrose.

The city estimates it would cost $14 million to $18 million to reactivate the concourses at the Coliseum.

And the city put the cost of a complete rehabilitation of the Coliseum at $40 million to $44 million, including operating costs. That drew the most jeers and boos of the two-hour meeting.

The city intends to spend $500,000 to maintain the Coliseum including roof repairs and sealing entrances to the arena as the city puts out a national request for proposals for the reuse of the building.

The Pipkin building would be expanded and overhauled to host community uses at an estimated cost of $10 million.

The Creative Arts building would be renovated for a nonprofit tenant, possibly The Junkyard Museum. The city has been talking with a local group raising funds for the interactive art museum similar to the City Museum in St. Louis for several years across several mayoral administrations.

The Strickland administration also better defined the hotel-retail area on the Central Avenue frontage – between the Children’s Museum of Memphis and the gymnasium at Maxine Smith STEAM Academy. A 120- to 180-room hotel is planned next to the Children’s Museum with a parking lot fronting on Central as well. Retail space and a 500-car garage would stand behind the hotel, with more retail and mixed-use development on the east side of the Early Maxwell entrance to the fairgrounds off Central.

The school’s gymnasium would be demolished on the Central Avenue frontage, with possible mixed-use development featuring retail on the ground floor and classrooms on the upper floors. The new gymnasium would be a block south of where the current gym is.

The garage would replace parking spaces lost to the new retail and mixed-use buildings. But the city says another 2,200 parking spaces in the unpaved southeast corner of the fairgrounds, where the sports complex is planned, would be lost as that area is developed.

The city is proposing a combination of strategies to deal with the parking situation on days when there is a football game at the Liberty Bowl stadium. Those include new parking lots nearby, shuttles, an area specifically for taxis and ride-sharing services, and increased bus service to the site.

The garage and other surface parking comes in at a cost of $10 million. The retail, gym and classrooms on the Central frontage also have an estimated cost of $10 million. There is no line item in the capital budget for building the hotel. The administration has taken the position with a possible second convention center hotel that the city would not build that hotel but would instead leave it to developers.

The city’s plans for Tobey Park as more of an annex of the fairgrounds include a competition BMX track next to the existing city skate park. The dog park that is now next to the skate park would be moved further east and improved as well. The city also would improve parking around renovated baseball fields at Tobey. All of that comes in at $4.6 million.

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