Mayor Strickland discusses what's next as city scores $350M from state for sports venues

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland talks about the city's $350 million victory for updating FedExForum, Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium, AutoZone Park, and building a new venue for 901 FC.

Mayor Strickland discusses what's next as city scores $350M from state for sports venues

The City of Memphis is celebrating a major funding win.

The Tennessee General Assembly has approved funding of $350 million for the City in order to renovate the Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium, FedExForum and build a multi-use stadium for Memphis 901 Football Club.

The State budget of $55.6 billion for fiscal 2023-2024 included the funding package. The State Senate approved the version of the State House of Representatives on April 20, and both the House of Representatives and State House of Representatives have approved their versions.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland announced April 21 that the exact distribution of funding for each project will be made by the City later, since two other pieces of legislation remain in progress.

Strickland said that the State must approve three funding sources, including the use of sales taxes collected by FedExForum as well as a car rental charge to pay for the facility. Strickland explained that both of these funds are already in place and have paid for the construction of the FedExForum. We're asking to extend them. "Last but not least, we would like to see an increase in hotel/motel taxes. We are limited by state law to 4%, and we would like to increase it to 5%. We will need to obtain approval from the City Council as well as the [Shelby] County Commission if the state government allows us to do these three things.

In October last year, Strickland’s administration requested that the State of Tennessee make a one-time $350 million investment in the project. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee included this funding in his February 2023 budget proposal.

The $350,000,000 in non-recurring funding to sports venues will hopefully improve tourism and economic opportunities throughout Memphis.

Strickland presented to the Memphis City Council in October 2022 a plan that would invest $684,000,000 into renovating three of the largest local sports venues, and building a forth over a period of several years. According to MBJ, the mayor told them that they had conducted an economic study that showed that the projects could have a $21-billion economic impact on Memphis and Shelby County.

Strickland told MBJ in March that he was delighted the governor had included the city's request for funding into the budget. Strickland said that Lee's backing was a halftime win for the city, but the State Senate and House would need to approve the $350 million to make the budget.

Strickland stated that his administration has been in contact with the members of the General Assembly to discuss the potential benefits for Memphis, and the state as a whole, from improving sports facilities.

Strickland estimated that the facilities would generate more than $500 million of state taxes over a 15-year period. Strickland told MBJ the cost of the project is $700 million. The local government must provide the remaining funding.

Strickland stated in a press release dated April 20, 'For over a year we have worked methodically on this historic project to improve the sports facilities of our city.' "Thanks Governor Lee and his Administration, Lt. We are grateful to Speaker Sexton and Governor McNally for their support. "Our sports facilities will undergo a dramatic improvement over the next few decades."

The key to winning a major conference is having a stadium plan.

In May 2022, the University of Memphis and the City of Memphis announced their intention to invest between $150-200 million in major renovations at the Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium. These plans include a complete transformation of the stadium’s west side. Strickland stated that the U of M's desire to be able to host a major conference is the driving force behind the upgrades.

Strickland stated that 'we need to do this in order to get the University of Memphis into a Power 5 Conference'. I think it's a huge deal for Memphis. I believe that if University of Memphis gets into a Power 5 it's the equivalent of a major league professional team. You can see how big the athletic events and programs are in the SEC and other leagues like Big 12, ACC and Pac 12. This football stadium is the number one thing that holds us back. The stadium is a beautiful one with some great views. But it hasn't been modernized. There is a need for a major renovation.

Laird Veatch said that receiving state funding for major renovations was crucial to the Tigers football program's progress.

Veatch stated in a press release that a first-class, modern football stadium would be a good demonstration of the state's desire to see the University of Memphis rise to a national level.

The design phase of the stadium renovation is underway with partners Populous, an architecture firm based in Kansas City, Barton Malow (a general contractor based in Nashville), and MFA, a local architecture joint venture. The City of Memphis released a Request for Information (RFI), in December, for professional design services required for certain phases of renovation of Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium. Construction will begin after the football season of 2023 and be completed by the beginning of the 2025 football season. The update will include a complete re-seating of all stadiums.

Repairing the Forum to keep the Grizzlies around

Strickland informed City Council in October of the fact that FedExForum was no longer up to NBA standards. Strickland said that while the Memphis Grizzlies have a contract that runs through 2029, major upgrades are needed to keep them in place after that date.

The FedExForum is also home to the University of Memphis men's basketball team.

Strickland stated that 'in general, there should be less seats in the upper section of the arena, and more on lower level'. The upper section of the arena has 45 percent of the total seats. We would like to have more seats lower in the arena, where the views are much better. The building's shell would remain intact, but the interior would be scraped and rebuilt.

Strickland stated that the City of Memphis and the Grizzlies need to enter into a contract before any work at the FedExForum can begin.

Strickland told MBJ in a March 2013 interview that he would not do the work if the company did not agree to stay another 25 years.

New soccer stadium that fits with mixed-use site

The modernized Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium will fit in with the plans for Liberty Park. Liberty Park is a public-private development of the former Mid-South Fairgrounds, worth $126 million. The District at Liberty Park is the second mixed-use phase of this project. It will include apartments, offices, hotels, restaurants, retail space and entertainment. As part of Liberty Park's first phase, the $57 million 227,000-square foot Memphis Sports and Events Center was opened in December.

Strickland plans to build a new sports arena there. The Mid-South Coliseum site would be converted into a stadium for Memphis 901 Football Club. Strickland’s vision is supported by the pro-soccer ownership group of Memphis, which owns both the Memphis Redbirds and the Mid-South Coliseum. The larger plan to upgrade sporting venues in the city includes the soccer stadium and some smaller renovations at AutoZone Park.

In February, the MBJ reported that the City sought designers for a multi-use stadium with a seating capacity of 6,500 to 8,000 people. The construction budget was set at $52.4 million. In March, the city issued a second request (RFP), seeking a construction manager to be at-risk for preconstruction and construction services for the new stadium.

The stadium project includes demolition of the Mid-South Coliseum which has been shut down since 2006. The stadium cost does not include the costs of demolition of the Mid-South Coliseum. The design would incorporate some of the facade from the Mid-South Coliseum, but the majority would be removed.

Save historic buildings is a priority for many groups

The demolition of the Mid-South Coliseum continues to face some opposition. Orange Mound residents and the Coliseum Coalition, a group of citizens who have been fighting for years to reopen and save the building, held a recent press conference outside the Coliseum. They asked the City again to delay its demolition plans.

Corey Strong is a former Shelby Democratic Party chairman and a proponent of saving and reusing the Coliseum. The group wants to see the City create an ad hoc Committee to move the Coliseum along using the Coliseum Coalition plan as a guide. Marvin Stockwell is the spokesman for the Coliseum Coalition, which was founded in 2015. He said that the group has been developing a plan during the last couple of years.

Stockwell explained, "We've done predevelopment work over the last two years and have been working with consultants who helped reimagine Crosstown Concourse." Stockwell said that we had some of the same brains working with us. Imagine for a moment what this building could become from a mixed-use perspective. One of the conclusions from this plan is the Mid-South Coliseum can be restored.

Strickland, however, has a different opinion and is openly stating that it's time to move in a new direction rather than refurbishing the long-vacant building.

Strickland stated that the building has been vacant for 15 to 20 year. We in the City showed it to dozens, including many businesses, but no one has proposed any plans for reuse.

Major economic score

Strickland said that if Liberty Park's vision and plans were realized, they could have a major impact on the economy of Midtown. He said that the plans could include concerts at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium, or the multi-use stadium soccer stadium. The latter could attract 7,000 to 10,000 attendees.

Strickland stated that he had built a youth indoor sports center that he believes will bring a million visitors a year into the city. Our plan to renovate Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium sustainably will hopefully help the University of Memphis get into a better league, bringing more fans and exposure for its football program. The new soccer stadium will also be located in the same area, which is a perfect fit. Add to that the private development we are planning on Central Avenue with restaurants, hotels and bars. It will be an area that is active for most of the year, attracting people to town.