Fairgrounds Plans a Carnival Trick?

When the city of Memphis all of a sudden decides it can find $160 million, a citizen might think “oh, good, they can put it towards stopping the tidal wave of crime that’s edging towards a tsunami on our streets.” Or, “we can start attracting businesses” or “we need to fix our bad roads or schools.”

But that citizen would be mistaken. The city has decided $160 million can be spent on the Fairgrounds area, according to a front page article in today’s CA. Not, however, putting a dime towards revamping the Coliseum. That has been declared out of the plans. It will be mothballed.

No, the Strickland administration has hauled out plans raised by his predecessor, AC Wharton. It’s the same theme of areas for competitive youth sports brought up a few years ago. Details are not available much yet – are they ever? – but they foresee a sportsplex, 500 space parking garage and a hotel.

The idea behind it is to give “opportunities for those kids that aren’t necessarily a part of some league or team to be able to come on the site and enjoy the benefits of it,” said Paul Young, director of Housing and Community Development.

Maybe a safer neighborhood and jobs would be more appropriate? Evidently not.

Roy Barnes, president of the Coliseum Coalition, doesn’t see it the way Young does. “It’s a real slap in the face to citizens,” he said. Barnes added, “they’ll try to spin this as a business decision – but it’s not. It’s not a business decision; it’s a political decision.”

The issue reminded me of a Midtown Republican Club meeting a few years ago. Charles “Chooch” Pickard was running for the City Council in 2015. He addressed this issue and said:

“As for the Fairgrounds project, there’s not enough transparency or public input. The Coliseum is a great building with great bones. It’s in good shape. We don’t need to tear down a building with so much music and sports history. It’s worth saving. But it’s going to be an uphill battle.

“Then there’s the TDZ (Tourism Development Zone). “They have paid sports consultants who tell them the same thing about usage that they are telling four other cities.” Pickard doesn’t see that we will command a viable audience or, if we did, it would pull away from other area facilities.”

Now, two and a half years later, his words are even more applicable.

Mayor Strickland is desperate to keep the black vote as I see it. He’s hoping this will help. He can tick it off his big list of easy things to do.

It does make you wonder what kind of deal has also been struck with big construction and cement companies. Is something going on? Lately the corners in Midtown are being torn up and replaced. If it were to replace them with handicap accessability, that might be understandable. They’re not. They are curbs just as high as the rest. Was it necessary to replace them? How much money did that take?

The whole thing smells funny.

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