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Old Posted Mar 10, 2010, 12:38 AM
Johnny Ryall Johnny Ryall is offline
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Fairgrounds Jump Start on Council's Agenda
BILL DRIES | The Daily News

Memphis City Council members will be called on today to jump start the stalled renovation of The Fairgrounds. The push by the Liberty Bowl's three tenants is to get an immediate council vote on a plan to create a great lawn at the Fairgrounds and demolish seven buildings including the Pipkin Building. An ad hoc committee including council members and representatives of the three tenants met Monday evening to talk about current demolition underway at the Fairgrounds. The demolition of the old Libertyland amusement park caused some concern when it went into a parking area outside the park. Southern Heritage Classic founder Fred Jones immediately began expressing concerns that the new activity as well as the digging of a temporary siltation pond would cut the number of parking spaces available for his annual Jackson State-Tennessee State football matchup. The work was stopped several weeks ago as the council tried to sort out where the demolition ended and the creation of a “great lawn” during the brief tenure of Mayor Pro Tempore Myron Lowery began. “There’s a whole lot of work still being done,” Jones told the committee Monday evening of what he had seen earlier that day. City Housing and Community Development director Robert Lipscomb said it was only a “clean up” of the area.

At Monday’s meeting, the three tenants of the football stadium said they back going ahead with the great lawn project as long as the lawn, in some form, and a plan to demolish the seven buildings, most of which are livestock barns, can all be done by the time football resumes at the Liberty Bowl with the Sept. 11 Southern Heritage Classic. Some of the demolition contracts run out next week. Jones said he supports the concept of a great lawn from East Parkway to the stadium. But he questioned whether the plans would increase the number of parking spaces from the current 5,372 within the Fairgrounds property to 7,568. “We need to know exactly what we have. I don’t mean conceptually,” Jones said. “You’re not creating new spaces.”

Architect Tom Marshall, the city’s consultant on the project, insisted new and more parking will be created with the demolition of the buildings and Libertyland. Marshall offered to come up with a detailed map showing individual parking spaces for today’s council discussion expected to begin during executive session at 1pm. “I’ll even put in big cars,” he told Jones at one point. Jones was the only no vote in the seven member committee vote to ask the city council for immediate approval of the project. “I’m not really satisfied with what I’ve seen,” he said after he and others said the work by some divisions of the city including the Park Services division didn’t mesh with what other parts of city government were saying. “It’s just too convenient that the park services people weren’t here. Every time we say there is additional parking, I have not seen it.”

Council member Reid Hedgepeth moderated the session, trying to keep all of those involved from discussing past mis-steps. “From now on people are going to know what’s happening,” he said. “If we’re going to do it, let’s do it. If not … let’s send them home,” he said referring to demolition crews. Liberty Bowl executive director Steve Ehrhart said pre bowl game events should have some kind of building on the grounds to host them. Lipscomb said a tent will serve the purpose even though Ehrhart would prefer one of the surviving Fairgrounds buildings. “A tent would be better than those buildings,” Lipscomb said.

Marshall estimated what is known as phase one of The Fairgrounds overhaul could cost $6-million to $9-million. There are no plans for a second phase or anything else beyond the great lawn and the building demolition. The phase one cost could vary depending on bids and design work still to be done. Construction would start in June. But the council could vote on a specific design in April or May. “We’re supportive of it,” University of Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson said near the end of the two hour session. “I’m more and more concerned about the land. But we want to move on it.” The construction of the Salvation Army Kroc Center on a Fairgrounds lot along East Parkway next to Fairview Junior High School is independent of the city’s on again-off again plans for the rest of the Fairgrounds property including phase one.
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