Coliseum: Community leaders rally support and call on city council to review revitalization plans

Coliseum Coalition asks Memphis City Council to form an ad-hoc committee to meet and review a detailed revitalization plan and to halt Mayor’s recent proposals to tear down historic venue

On the north side of the historic Mid-South Coliseum against a backdrop of six murals depicting the building’s legacy, community leaders gathered Wednesday afternoon around news cameras and community support and presented their passions and plans for saving the historic 1964 Mid-South Coliseum.

Said Orange Mound activist and Coliseum Coalition board member Angela Barksdale, “Your presence today shows that there is a real care and concern for this historic building and what it means for our community.”

Angela Barksdale, center at podium, begins the Wednesday press conference, flanked by her fellow Coliseum Coalition members (photo Mark Fleischer)

Led by representatives from the Orange Mound Parade Committee, Orange Mound Development Corporation, the Melrose Center for Cultural Enrichment, and the Coliseum Coalition, the group laid out numerous reasons – from personal, financial, historical, and cultural perspectives – why the Mid-South Coliseum can and should be saved and reopened rather than being demolished.

The Wednesday press conference arrived as a response to Mayor Strickland’s recent proposal to tear down the Coliseum and, pending financial support of an estimated $52 million, in its place building a new soccer stadium for Memphis’s 901FC minor league soccer club.

Community member Gerald Boyd, who grew up in nearby Orange Mound, said he watched the building being built, that it “has good bones and it can be the next Crosstown project, just like the Crosstown Concourse.”

Coalition member Marvin Stockwell added that “we’ve been working with the consultants that helped reimagine Crosstown Concourse. We had some of the same braintrust working with us. It wasn’t too long ago that people said ‘that will never happen,’ and I hear some of the same voices saying this (the Coliseum) will never happen – I’ve heard it for eight years. Honestly, the Crosstown project was a much much heavier lift than this would be comparatively.”

The Coalition also made public a detailed development plan for its revitalization, a plan that included Coliseum structural data compiled based on the results of two separate assessments, “including the city’s own assessment,” Stockwell said.

“Now that we know all that we know – culminated in this plan – now we know conclusively that this building is in excellent shape. One of the summary conclusions of this plan is that the Mid-South Coliseum is restorable,” Stockwell said. “These are the same people that said Crosstown Concourse was restorable and it turns out they were right. I trust that summary in intel.”

“There are plans for this building, and they haven’t been allowed to come forward. There’s never been an RFP (request for proposal) issued for the Coliseum.”

Like the multi-uses in the Concourse, the group feels that the best and most sustainable future use of the Coliseum is for some kind of mixed-use. In development plans posted to the Coliseum Coalition’s website, the group and past assessments have identified almost 20 possible concurrent and/or overlapping uses that could occur throughout a calendar year, in entertainment, sports, trade shows, and the return of school graduations, among others.

Coliseum Coalition member Corey Strong reminded the attendees that “this was the first meeting and gathering space designed and built in Memphis with integration in mind. There’s plenty of things this building can be used for as part of this plan. Think about what was recently mentioned: a hip-hop museum would look great here; a new Shelby County archives. In addition to that, there’s no wrestling museum anywhere and I know there’s some wrestling fans out here; how about bring wrestling home to Memphis?”

Check out the Coliseum Coalition’s website here, which includes the most current development plan and a survey soliciting community feedback on future uses of the Coliseum.

Wednesday’s press conference was held on the north side of the Mid-South Coliseum, across from the Simmons Bank Liberty Bowl, one of the Coliseum Coalition’s proposed alternative sites that could serve 901FC soccer (photo Mark Fleischer)

“We can have both. We are better with both.”

During the press conference and in public statement, the group has been quick to point out that their desire to halt the demolition of the Coliseum is not a rebuke of a new soccer stadium for 901FC.

Preservationist Leah Fox-Greenberg said, “Not only do I believe in historic preservation, but I also believe in economic development. There is a perception that this can’t be saved, and there is a perception that the last thing we would want to see is soccer. And folks, we’re just better with both. We are better with the Coliseum and with a facility for 901FC soccer. We support 901FC soccer, we support them coming to Liberty Park. But here’s the deal, they don’t have to be here. We can have both. We are better with both.”

The Coalition concluded with a direct ask of the Memphis City Council. “We know that the people who make the decisions here is the city council,” said Corey Strong. “So we have an ask today. We’re asking the Memphis City Council, who ultimately decides how our taxpayer dollars are spent, before they get rid of the building we own, is to set up an ad hoc committee to study the disposition of this building before any decisions are made and to hear from us about what’s been going on for the past eight years to reuse this building and bring new life to it.”

“The city has invested in redoing buildings, in repurposing, and we’re asking them to do it again . . . There are a number of things this building could be used for if we have the imagination and political will to do so.”

In separate recent public statements as well as during the Wednesday press conference, the group has also dispelled what they say is a false narrative perpetuated by the city administration, that no suitors have come forward and that for eight years no plans have been presented to the city. “There are plans for this building,” said Stockwell in rebuttal, “and they haven’t been allowed to come forward.” In contrast to other efforts to repurpose city-owned properties, Stockwell reminded the crowd that “there’s never been an RFP (request for proposal) issued for the Coliseum.”

By contrast and comparison, the 7-year Crosstown Concourse project “took sustained creativity and belief,” said Stockwell. “And that is what is necessary with the Coliseum, and quite frankly, it’s what’s been sorely lacking from our administration and Mayor Strickland.

The group has set one timetable for their ask to the city council. “Before they approve the budget,” said Corey Strong. “We want this ad hoc committee convened and active before they approve the Mayor’s budget.” Under the city’s budget calendar, the 2024 fiscal year begins July 1; the Mayor is due to submit his proposed 2024 budget in April, which is made public the same month; the Memphis City Council budget committee convenes in May and makes its own budget recommendations; and the final council vote takes place in a June council meeting.

Said Strong in conclusion, “Now, you may think this is a new thing we’re asking for, but the city has demonstrated the ability to repurpose buildings. We’ve seen that with Crosstown Concourse. We see what’s happening with Northside High School. We see what’s happening with old Melrose (High School). The city has invested in redoing buildings, in repurposing, and we’re asking them to do it again for what I think is the most historic. There are a number of things this building could be used for if we have the imagination and political will to do so.”

Related: Opinion, The Mid-South Coliseum, the “People’s Building,” must be given more fair grounds to work with; and StoryBoard’s feature story on the history of the Coliseum, The Coliseum, the People’s Building that has it all: It Says “Memphis”

Listen to the full StoryBoard 30 Podcast, A Walk with the Coliseum Coalition, which includes the full March 15 press conference

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