Following weeks of interviews, tours, surveys, and public meetings, on June 12th the Urban Land Institute issued its report on the repurposing of the 155-acre Mid-South Fairgrounds, an opinion that advocated, among other things, expanding Tiger Lane, construction of a water park, and preserving, at least in part, the Mid-South Coliseum.
A Washington, D.C. nonprofit dedicated to providing “leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide,” the ULI was asked by the city to review possible uses for the property after a row developed in recent months between planners for an amateur sports complex, complete with retail and hotel components and funded through a wide-sweeping, controversial tourism development zone tax rebate, and proponents of a more grassroots approach, in particular a group dedicated to preserving the historic coliseum, home to memorable concerts by the Beatles, epic University of Memphis basketball games, and a long, kitschy legacy of professional wrestling.
The ULI report largely left in tact the city’s sports complex plan, meant, at least in part, to attract large amateur sports tournaments to the region, including a multi-purpose building. It also added a number of features, including an expansion of Tiger Lane to the South, the addition of a water park and a regular park with a lake. The recommendation significantly scaled back the city’s planned retail component, from 400,000 square feet to 20,000, and eliminated altogether a planned hotel, which it deemed unnecessary at this time.
In all the ULI estimated the total price tag for the revised project at $184 million, compared to the city’s original cost of $233 million. The panel said the project could be funded mostly by the TDZ with additional funding from federal New Market Tax Credits, but it recommended the city commit $21 million of the TDZ funds to improvements in other parts of the covered zone, including Cooper-Young.
The ULI’s opinion is non-binding. City officials, including project leader Robert Lipscomb, Director of Housing and Community Development, have said they are reviewing the proposal and studying how best to proceed.
The ULI presentation can be viewed at memphisfairgrounds.org.