Finally, a Path to Conservancy for the Mid-South Coliseum

An announcement and a conversation give a Coliseum revival new hope

In its most hopeful development to date, with the clearest path yet to solvency and a new life for the Mid-South Coliseum, a group of Memphis leaders have announced the formation of The Coliseum Conservancy. The group includes local leaders in business, architecture, politics, advocacy, and media, names that are familiar to many Memphians.

Join the Conversation: Mark Fleischer speaks to Leah Fox-Greenberg about the new Coliseum Conservancy on WYPL’s StoryBoard 30. Link below.

The seeds of The Conservancy were planted early in 2023, when Ken May, former CEO of Topgolf and FedEx Office, and former Shelby County Democratic Party chairman Corey Strong worked with the momentum gathered by civic leaders and the efforts of the Coliseum Coalition to revitalize the venue. They were also catalyzed by the City’s momentary flirtation with the idea of demolishing the building to make way for a new minor league soccer stadium for Memphis’s 901FC, which ultimately only materialized in concept.

A year later, the Conservancy is now active. In a brief press release, the group announced its founding board members, “who are leading the effort to preserve and develop the historic Mid-South Coliseum.” They include:

  • Ken May, CEO of Jumpshot, former CEO of Top Golf and FedEx Office
  • Corey Strong, Director of Strategic Partnerships for First 8 Memphis and former chairman of Shelby County Democratic Party
  • Paula Casey, speaker and president of Vote 70, Inc.
  • Ron Olson, artist and WRVR 104.5 radio host
  • Dawn Campbell, General Counsel at LifeLinc Anesthesia
  • JW Gibson, civic leader and CEO of Gibson Companies
  • Marika Snider, architect and owner of Snider Architecture and Associate Professor at the University of Memphis

In their statement, the wrote that “The Coliseum Conservancy is committed to reactivating the historic building into a thriving economic resource to signal that Memphis is a city on the move.”

The Mid-South Coliseum in 2023. Photo by Mark Fleischer

Commonly, conservancies have been established to preserve the natural environment, wildlife, or a specific species; however, numerous conservancies have formed to preserve the built environment: historic neighborhoods, significant architecture, and landmarked structures. By design, conservancies are formed to raise awareness, carry out specific revitalization plans, and ultimately, to raise the funding necessary for both.

In terms of fundraising, The Coliseum Conservancy’s foremost goal will be to raise the approximately $25 million that prior have studies have determined will be needed for preliminary work to reopen its doors to the general public, bringing the venue up to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards, removing and repairing seats, adding railings, improving locker and press rooms amenities, making needed roof repairs, and wiring the building for wi-fi.

The $25 million estimate is based on a “Modernization and Operations Business Plan” the Coliseum Coalition compiled in 2019. The same plan estimated that $40 million would be required for a complete revival of the structure. Meanwhile, a demolition of the building would cost the City – and taxpayers – $10 to $15 million at a minimum based on 2017 estimates, calculations made before post-pandemic inflation and before pandemic supply-chain costs that in some sectors have almost doubled. In addition, as the Coalition has pointed out, the figure is a fraction of the costs for the capital improvements now underway for the nearby Liberty Bowl (approx. $220 million) and that are being calculated for renovations to the FedEx Forum (over $500 million).

With their announcement, the Coliseum Conservancy is ready to move forward. Earlier this month, I sat down for an episode of WYPL’s StoryBoard 30 to discuss group’s plans with Leah Fox-Greenberg, who spoke on behalf of the conservancy. “We are the funding arm,” Leah said. “We are the people who will be working with our civic leaders, working with the mayor’s office, working with the city council . . . to be in partnership with the city to open the doors of the Coliseum much like the doors of Crosstown Concourse were opened, much like the doors of Tennessee Brewery were opened, and a new way of thinking for a building that is very, very much in need of some love.”

Listen Here:

From WYPL, StoryBoard 30, Episode 86: The Coliseum Conservancy, with Leah Fox-Greenberg

Related: The Mid-South Coliseum, the “People’s Building,” must be given more fair grounds to work with

6 Replies to “Finally, a Path to Conservancy for the Mid-South Coliseum”

  1. That would be really wonderful to restore the Memphis Mid-South Coliseum to its ”Old Glory” because after all it is a historic landmark. It has been there for ages. As long as I can remember various events would take place there. Especially when Memphis Wrestling was so popular and widely known back in the day. I believe that is what put Championship Wrestling on the map when it would take place LIVE at the Memphis Mid-South Coliseum. And we certainly can’t forget the KING of WRESTLING Jerry Lawler a LIVING LEGEND who would be there in action every Monday night at that Coliseum.

    That’s what comes to mind for me and probably many others when you think of the Mid-South Coliseum.

  2. Hope they can get this project done. I’m sure with a revitalized building it would draw events and maybe even Wrestling will come back to this venue. Whether it be WWE AEW Or TNA .I remember when Georgia Championship Wrestling would do Live events from there. Would be GREAT for reopening night there.

  3. This is definitely the right thing to do. All the ingredients are there for a successful renovation. Graduations, Concerts, wrestling, sporting events, circus, & more. MSC! Historic building.

  4. Contractually, the Coliseum is limited in the types of events it can host. Until these are addressed, why spend any funds on renovation?

    Have you considered alternatives that don’t compete with FedEx Forum such as a new museum, event space, or athletic facility?

    Sure those compete with MOSH, Brooks, Dixon, Rennasant Convention Center, and Kroc Center. So, this venue requires careful thought and planning.

    1. Thank you for reading Scott, and for your comment and question. Both the Coliseum Coalition and the new Conservancy have addressed all of those concerns in their various proposals. In their research, they have identified multiple uses for the Coliseum that would keep the space active year-round. As far as contracts go, the ‘non-compete’ with the Fedex Forum is limited to events of 5,000 patrons and under. I’d recommend you read the related piece we wrote in February of last year. In that article, we go into detail on the possible uses the Coliseum teams have identified in studies, and links to the Coalition’s – and now the Conservancy’s – business plan.

  5. I live not far from there and the other day walking around the Coliseum, it brought back so many memories of Monday night Wrestling, to my first concert ( Kiss ) was awesome!! Memphis Riverkings, to the Americans Soccer team. It needs to be brought back for shows, bands, entertainment that cant pack the Forum, but would be perfect for the Coliseum. Memphis you are always making stupid ass decisions on how you spend money. But bringing life back to this could equal money for Memphis. Do the right thing and Give the Mid South Coliseum the Revitalization it deserves.

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