Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Turley Touts Fairgrounds Vision

Posted By on Wed, Sep 2, 2009 at 1:59 PM

Is there common ground for blacks and whites in Fair Ground?

Developer Henry Turley still thinks so, as he told a group of real estate professionals at a luncheon at The Racquet Club this week. He says he's as committed to it as he was to HarborTown or Uptown or any of his projects, even though it is limbo with the interim mayor Myron Lowery and the Memphis City Council.

The basic vision of an amateur youth sports complex funded by $50 million in private capital and $75 million in tax rebates hasn't changed, but Turley said he has rethought some of the parts. For one thing, he now thinks the Coliseum should be demolished and eventually replaced with a multi-sports facility.

Coincidentally, Turley was speaking a few blocks from another common ground — the Paradiso movie theater — and three days after 23 police cars were called out Saturday night to control a crowd of more than 500 teenagers and others gathered in the theater's parking lot. He thinks Fair Ground could be a positive alternative "if we build a place so nice you have to play here."

A successful regional sports tournament is, in some ways, the opposite of a night at the movies. Instead of dropping off their kids and picking them up a few hours later, parents stick around and stay involved, or in some cases overly involved. Coaches and parents replace police. Action on the court, field or pool instead of murder and mayhem on the big screen.

In a 25-minute presentation including questions and answers, it was hard to gauge the reaction of the luncheon group, which was mainly comprised of white males with familiar names like Clark, Gillis, Poag, McEwen, and Saig who are in the real estate business. Turley remarked that he was possibly the only self-described liberal in the room. Nobody jumped up to disagree. He said the name "Fair Ground" instead of "Fairgrounds" came from a New Yorker who reviewed his plans and was impressed with the goal of bringing different groups together. He said a Target store and a couple of Hampton-style hotels would go a long way toward creating the tax increment for the financing and give the parents and kids a nearby place to stay. He said John Calipari helped convince him that the Coliseum, home to numerous defunct pro teams over the years, has outlived any usefulness. He said he remembers when the Liberty Bowl stadium was brand new.

He has said most of this before, convincing former mayor Willie Herenton to sign a development agreement with him that is insufficient to take to the bank. The stadium, and Turley, aren't getting any younger. Memphis plays Ole Miss Sunday. Fifty thousand people will eyeball the fairgrounds, for better or worse. If Turley's deal flies, my guess is it will get rolling within a year or so or never.

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