MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Despite its place in Memphis history, the historic Mid-South Coliseum still sits unoccupied and abandoned. The city of Memphis is months away from breaking ground on a massive redevelopment plan at the Mid-South Fairgrounds, but that does not include improvements to the Mid-South Coliseum.
The city facility has been closed for 14 years, but the Coliseum Coalition has been leading VIP tours inside to see what can be done to get it reopened.
The roughly 90 tours have been conducted with approval from the city of Memphis. The experience is like taking a ride back in time from the signage, machines, seats, and more.
“The Coliseum is the emotional heart of the fairgrounds, always has been,” said Marvin Stockwell, Co-founder of the Coliseum Coalition, “And now there is reinvestment in the fairgrounds, we think it’s a logical question to say how does the Coliseum fit in with that.”
City leaders expect by this time next year to have started on a $140 million youth sports complex and mixed-use development at the fairgrounds. The Coliseum was included as a qualified use for public funds under a special sales tax program called a Tourism Development Zone or TDZ. But the Coliseum is not in the city’s initial development plans.
The city said the Coliseum could come on line as part of a later phase of development. But that is not a guarantee.
“With developers, it’s always helpful if you can come in and see, kick the tires, before you think about possibly doing something,” said Mary Claire Borys, Manager of Strategic Initiatives, Housing and Community Development, City of Memphis, “Also, we wanted people to see what shape the building is in. It’s not falling down. But it does need a lot of work.”
The Coliseum Coalition estimates it would take $25 to $40 million to be able to open the historic structure, making it ADA compliant and getting it up to code. Advocates see a future as a multi-purpose arena and point to Memphis’ success at adaptive reuse at places like Crosstown Concourse and Clayborn Temple.
But all agree opening the doors will take money, time, and the right idea.
“Where the city, and those in grassroots are most in alignment is that we realize it’s going to take third-party investment to reopen the Coliseum,” said Stockwell.