The concrete jungle of parking lots at the Mid-South Fairgrounds remains empty most days. Libertyland and the Coliseum are all but forgotten. But with plans in place to break ground on the Kroc Center of Memphis and more renovations happening at Liberty Bowl Stadium, the Fairgrounds will soon see more signs of life.
The Kroc Center, a state-of-the-art Salvation Army-operated community center with free membership for low-income families, is slated to be built adjacent to Fairview school along East Parkway. The Salvation Army is only $2 million shy of its $25 million donation goal to begin construction.
"We hope to break ground [with the Kroc Center] this fall," said Major Mark Woodcock, area commander for the Salvation Army. "Our architects are working on construction documents and, hopefully, they'll finish in a couple of weeks."
The center will be one of 25 Kroc centers across the country, funded in part by the estate of Joan Kroc, wife of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc. The 100,000-square-foot facility will boast two NCAA-regulation soccer fields, an NBA-quality basketball court, a performing arts center, a gym, an aquatic facility, and a multi-challenge area with interactive virtual games.
"The multi-challenge room is best described as putting a child into a virtual video game," Woodcock said. "For example, there's a laser room that's very James Bond. A child will have to work through a laser maze. If they break the laser, an alarm will go off."
The multi-challenge space also includes an area where members can edit video, as well as places to practice and learn to play musical instruments. Soccer fields will be open not only to Kroc members but to community and college teams needing a space to play. Currently, many groups use the public fields at the Mike Rose Soccer complex in southeast Shelby County.
"We've had a lot of comments from people who are excited about the soccer fields, because they won't have to drive all the way out east for games," said Steve Carpenter, director of operations for the Kroc Center.
General membership to the Kroc Center will be free, but those who can afford to pay will be encouraged to do so.
"In Mrs. Kroc's vision, she wanted to bring people together from all walks of life," Woodcock said.
The nearby Liberty Bowl stadium is also seeing construction. A large women's restroom, two concession stands, and a gate were renovated last month.
Last week, the city filed a $1.2 million permit to bring the Liberty Bowl's restrooms up to par with the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as to create a new ADA-approved officials room and green rooms for half-time performers. Construction on those projects is slated to begin in January.
"We think every project that we're doing extends the life of that enhancement by another 40 years," said city architect Mel Scheuerman. "We have a viable stadium and we're trying to stay focused on the minor things so it will stay fresh."