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Memphis’s Mid-South Coliseum Could Be Revived

Memphis TamsMemphis’s Mid-South Coliseum, largely shut down since 2006, could be revived and repurposed under an ambitious plan to convert part of the Fairgrounds site to a youth-sports complex.

The Mid-South Coliseum opened in 1963 and served as the Memphis sports and entertainment hub for decades, hosting American Basketball Association (ABA) games in the form of the Memphis Pros/Tams/Sounds, University of Memphis basketball, high-profile professional wrestling cards and a slew of big concerts featuring the likes of The Beatles and Elvis Presley. It was placed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 2000, but it was surpassed first by the Memphis Pyramid and then the FedEx Forum.

But it could see new use under a $161-million public-private project proposed by the city of Memphis that would reposition 22 acres of the Fairgrounds as a youth-sports complex, complete with a new indoor youth sports complex and improvements to the Liberty Bowl, as well as new private investment that would include a new hotel, housing, retail and office space. The city would use $91 million in proceeds from a new tourism development zone (TDZ) and other revenues to fund the improvements, while a private developer would be expected to pay $61 million. From the Daily Memphian:

Not only does Memphis want to go to work on a facility that will reshape 22 acres on the Fairgrounds property, it hopes to revive older buildings, too. Ultimately, city officials said, improvements could be the catalyst for bringing the Mid-South Coliseum back to life after more than a decade of dormancy.

“Getting the TDZ is really, really big,” said Marvin Stockwell, co-founder of the Coliseum Coalition and Friends of the Fairgrounds in Memphis.

He credits the Memphis city government for its work on the project and for keeping grassroots groups involved, including those who want to see the Mid-South Coliseum rise again. Stockwell said he believes the coliseum, which hasn’t been used regularly since 2006, could hold multiple types of events and even become the home for a wrestling hall of fame.

The specific role of the Mid-South Coliseum in the youth-sports complex hasn’t been determined, and modernizing an arena of that era is certainly a challenge. Madison (WI) is looking at a renovation of its 1967 Veterans Memorial Coliseum, and even a modest upgrade — new seating, new lighting, concourse expansion, expanded loading docks — is projected to be in the $80-million range.