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Strickland: ‘All other Fairgrounds choices better than Coliseum’

By Michelle Corbet

From Memphis Business Journal

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has decided the city should invest in building a new indoor youth sports complex rather than renovating the Mid-South Coliseum.

As the speaker at a Pinnacle Bank client luncheon Tuesday, Oct. 31, Strickland addressed a question about the Mid-South Fairgrounds Tourism Development Zone (TDZ) application.

In his response, Strickland also addressed a burning question about what will happen to the Coliseum.

“Budgeting is choices,” Strickland said. “It’s not like you can have everything. And, to me, all the other choices were better than the Coliseum, so you probably won’t see the Coliseum in our plan … to redo it.”

A Fairgrounds TDZ would allow the city to collect a portion of state sales tax and funnel it back into redeveloping the area. Memphis must submit a final plan for the use of those funds to the Tennessee State Building Commission.

The City of Memphis’ Division of Housing and Community Development is expected to present a working concept plan for redeveloping the Fairgrounds in a formal program at the Kroc Center Monday, Nov. 6, at 5:30 p.m.

“The sales taxes would generate $100 million,” Strickland said. “Just rebuilding up the Coliseum to make it useable with [the Americans with Disabilities Act] and all that costs $40 million.”

In September, Allen & Hoshall executives toured the Coliseum with Charles “Chooch” Pickard, a preservation architect and urban designer who is part of a grassroots effort to renovate the historic building.

The city evaluated four options for the Coliseum, with associated price tags:

  1. Complete revival of the Coliseum as an event venue: $40 million
  2. Opening the concourses for development: $14 million
  3. Demolition: $8 million to 10 million
  4. Preserve the building, leaving options for its future: $500,000

The concept plan is expected to recommend the fourth option for the Coliseum: spending an estimated $500,000, mostly associated with roof repairs, to preserve the building and leave it there for the future.

Strickland also said the Coliseum lacks a clear operations plan and gave the example of another Mid-South venue that the Mayor claimed operates at a loss.

“Many years, the Landers Center operates at a deficit, so government has to subsidize it,” Strickland said. “So, it’s the big up-front money, plus the operating.”

Strickland anticipates instead investing the TDZ money in an indoor, youth sports facility with “some retail, maybe a hotel and some improvements to the [Liberty Bowl] stadium.”

In September, the Coliseum Coalition, the grassroots group working to save the Coliseum, released a business plan that details how enough revenue could be generated to fund a full renovation of the venue.

After the city’s concept plan for the Fairgrounds is presented Monday, the public will have an opportunity to provide feedback before the Memphis City Council votes on accepting the plan.

Once the plan is approved by the council, the Strickland administration hopes to send the TDZ application to the state by the end of the year.

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