Fairground's Future 

Redevelopment plan brings promise and protest.

At a meeting with members of the Mid-South Fairgrounds Redevelopment Committee, tensions erupted between citizens interested in preserving the site's historic past and the city's hope for its future.

Members of the committee met with citizens at Fairview Junior High School last week to discuss the possible scenarios that will be presented to both the city and county mayor in January.

Steve Auterman, one of the architects from Looney Ricks Kiss, the firm the redevelopment committee hired to examine the best use of the land, presented the six scenarios to approximately 50 citizens.

"Right now, we have over 600 acres of proposals for 140 acres of land," said Auterman. The redevelopment plans must include the Children's Museum of Memphis and the Liberty Bowl, both of which have long-term leases with the city.

Whatever scenario is selected, Looney Ricks Kiss has laid out a series of master principles that it hopes will guide redevelopment. Preserving the land as a regional public amenity is one of the core principles. Another is selecting a design that eliminates the perception that the site is unsafe.

After being presented with the scenarios in November, the committee deemed scenario number five as the "best use" of the available space.

"The basic layout for scenario number five is a festival green in the center of the site which restores the historic midway," said Auterman. On both the north and south sides of the midway, the plan calls for multi-purpose areas, which could be used for the fair, flea markets, or festivals. Some of that multi-purpose area could also be organized recreation.

"The thought is that it shouldn't be a single, devoted use but should perform many functions," said Auterman. "The north edge of the property, along Central Avenue, should be lined with what we call mixed-used, which is either residential or office uses above street-level retail."

Scenario number five is the only one that does not include Libertyland, the Mid-South Fair, or the Mid-South Coliseum. This rankled many citizens in attendance.

"I've lived in a number of cities over the years, and I stayed in Memphis because it is unique. A lot of what you are proposing is very cookie-cutter," resident Amy LaVere said.

Robert Lipscomb, organizer of the redevelopment committee, responded in a later interview.

"You've got to find a balance between respecting the nostalgia and protecting the architectural integrity versus can citizens afford to pay for it and are they willing?" he said.

Lipscomb hopes that with proper redevelopment, the land will become a new center within the city.

"You have to think long-term, because that is a valuable piece of property. It really is the nexus between East Memphis and what's going on downtown. Right now you're not maximizing the value of the property."

-- Ben Popper

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