Fair Grounds 

The planning process for the Mid-South Fairgrounds, a mostly unused 155-acre site that sits in the heart of the city, is reopening, the city of Memphis announced last week.

After many plans for the Fairgrounds have been tossed around and ultimately shelved in the past, Paul Young, the director of the city's Division of Housing and Community Development (HCD), which is spearheading the project, said redevelopment could start as early as 2018.

"We feel like now the time is right to dust off those past plans, see what things work, what things don't work, and introduce it to the community so we can come up with a plan and maximize this significant opportunity that our city has," Young said during a press conference at the Fairgrounds last week.

Over the next few months, the city will work to complete a comprehensive plan for the site. That plan will be submitted in a Tourism Development Zone (TDZ) application to the state in hopes of procuring a good chunk of the funding for the project.

click to enlarge Friends of the Fairgrounds meet. - FRIENDS OF THE FAIRGROUNDS
  • Friends of the Fairgrounds
  • Friends of the Fairgrounds meet.

To complete the plan, Young said the city will build on the Urban Land Institute's (ULI) research and planning completed in 2015.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said the goal is to have applications to the Memphis City Council and State of Tennessee by the end of the year.

The planning process will also include a series of public meetings to gather input from the community on what they hope to see at the Fairgrounds. The first will be held Thursday, August 10th at the Kroc Center.

These public input meetings come as good news to Marvin Stockwell, co-founder of grassroots group Friends of the Fairgrounds (FOTF). Stockwell said since 2015 he and co-founder John Minervini have worked hard to develop an inclusive and equitable vision for the Fairgrounds that benefits all Memphians.

They did this by hosting a series of meetings for members of the Fairground's surrounding neighborhoods, some of which include Orange Mound, Glenview, and Chickasaw Gardens. These meetings, Stockwell said, were set up to listen to the stakeholders' desires for the Fairgrounds, while learning what the community needs and how developing the Fairgrounds could meet those needs.

He said after those meetings it was apparent that residents in the area miss the connection they once had with the Fairgrounds site and want to see that space put to better use.

"Our stakeholders know that amazing, transformative change at the Fairgrounds is possible," Stockwell said.

As the city begins to re-open its plans for the Fairgrounds, Stockwell said he hopes that the group will have a seat at the table with the city and an influence on the outcome of the site.

In early summer, Stockwell said city officials reached out to FOTF to compare notes about plans for the Fairgrounds. He said though officials were receptive of their vision and he left the meeting feeling optimistic, he hasn't received "any assurance that FOTF will influence the process yet."

However, Stockwell said the last time he spoke with Doug McGowen, the city's chief operating officer, McGowen told him "all options are still on the table."

Ultimately, Stockwell said whether FOTF is involved in the process or not, he hopes the city will remain transparent and inclusive throughout the entire planning stages.

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