State panel to consider Fairgrounds TDZ and youth sports complex in $100M project

By Published: November 17, 2018 3:05 PM CT

A state panel is set to consider Memphis’ request for a Fairgrounds Tourism Development Zone in which tax revenue would be used to pay off the debt for construction of a youth sports and events complex and connected improvements, an estimated $100 million project.

The State Building Commission Executive Committee will look at the proposal in a Monday meeting at 11 a.m. in the Cordell Hull State Office Building in Nashville.

Mayor Jim Strickland’s administration is planning a 3-square-mile tourism development zone where sales tax revenue would be used to finance reconfiguration of the Fairgrounds with an indoor youth sports complex as the central feature on East Parkway at Southern Avenue where the Libertyland amusement park was located.

“The Fairgrounds presents a significant opportunity for the city to build an indoor youth sports facility that can accommodate tournaments and events for basketball, volleyball, track, cheer and other mat sports,” said Memphis spokeswoman Ursula Madden. “The project will provide a stimulus to the economy for the surrounding neighborhoods and Memphis as a whole.”

State approval would enable the city to start the process and take out a $50 million issue, about half the cost of the project, according to Madden.

The state Department of Finance and Administration consulted with the Departments of Tourism and Economic and Community Development and certified the tourism development zone and youth sports and events complex before forwarding the matter to the State Building Commission for its consideration.

Strickland scaled back initial plans from his mayoral predecessors, Willie Herenton and A C Wharton, while maintaining the goal of drawing youth sports tournaments and creating more Fairgrounds events throughout the year.

The mayor’s proposal includes building a football field and track next to the youth sports complex to replace ones on Central Avenue used by Shelby County Schools, then using the Central frontage for a potential hotel and parking garage. The future of the mothballed Mid-South Coliseum, which has been used for city storage since 2006, is undecided.

According to state information, the overall project also includes improvements to Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, the Children’s Museum of Memphis, rehabilitation of the Creative Arts Building for leasing as a family attraction, exterior improvements to the Pipkin Building for civic events and work on three historic structures known as the Armory buildings.

The Department of Finance and Administration confirmed the facility meets the requirements of state law and is located on the 155-acre fairgrounds campus, according to state information.

The proposed tourism development zone boundaries extend beyond one mile from the perimeter of the facility “as necessitated by the mix of commercial and residential areas surrounding the fairgrounds,” according to the state’s review, but the proposed 2.97-square-mile zone doesn’t exceed the maximum 3 square miles allowed by state law.

If the executive committee and the State Building Commission approve the zone’s certification, the city of Memphis would issue bonds in late 2019 or early 2020 to finance construction. The state also would review and approve the payback plan.

Ultimately, the State Building Commission, chaired by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, must approve the plan as well.

According to state information, the city stated “any and all revenues produced by the TDZ in excess of those needed to fund phase 2 and 3 projects outlined in this application will be used for early repayment of debt service.” The city also understands the tourism development zone would end once all debt is paid back. Then all sales tax revenue would revert to regular taxing authorities.


Memphis Fairgrounds Jim Strickland State Building Commission
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter with more than 30 years of journalism experience as a writer, editor and columnist covering the state Legislature and Tennessee politics for The Daily Memphian.

Comment On This Story

Section Emails

Sign up to get the latest articles from the Metro section.