Friends of the Fairgrounds Have a Vision 

Citizen group crafting plan that includes many voices.

A grassroots group will work with the city's Memphis 3.0 initiative to help craft a plan for the Mid-South Fairgrounds and will kick it off with a rally next week.

"The Fairgrounds should be the beating heart of the city," said John Minervini, co-founder of Friends of the Fairgrounds (FOTF). "It should pump vitality out to the farthest reaches of Memphis and the region."

FOTF was co-founded by Minervini and Marvin Stockwell in October 2015. The two share a passion for these 168 acres rooted in early experiences like Libertyland, the Mid-South Fair, and concerts at the Mid-South Coliseum.

Since 2015, the pair have worked with an alliance of over 200 community stakeholders — representatives of nearby neighborhoods, businesses, schools, and nonprofit organizations — who run the gamut of age, gender, race, class and socioeconomic status. The group is united by core values like inclusivity and fairness and by a common vision for the future of the Fairgrounds.

"We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity in this land, and we are determined not to miss it," said Minervini. "We believe that Fairgrounds can and should be a place where Memphians come together across lines that have traditionally divided us to learn, connect, grow, explore, and play."

Ultimately, FOTF hopes to partner with the city of Memphis to reimagine and redevelop the land. To that end, they have teamed up with Memphis 3.0, the city's comprehensive planning effort, to host a community rally on Thursday, May 18th. The event is family-friendly, and all are welcome.

click to enlarge A meeting of the Friends of the Fairgrounds - FRIENDS OF THE FAIRGROUNDS
  • Friends of the Fairgrounds
  • A meeting of the Friends of the Fairgrounds

The purpose of the gathering is threefold. First, FOTF will give an update on their progress and share a vision document, "Heart of the City." Second, they will introduce their stakeholders to Memphis 3.0 and explain how the two efforts fit together. Finally, the two groups will conduct a joint exercise, setting priorities for the next stage of the planning process.

The event will feature short presentations by Ashley Cash, adminstratior of Memphis 3.0 and Justin Entzminger, director of Innovate Memphis. Additionally, FOTF will serve a light supper and walking tours of the still-under-construction Grand Carousel Pavilion at the Children's Museum of Memphis.

"Memphis is a city with amazing assets and deep, unmet needs," says Minervini. "What sets our project apart from past efforts is that we are putting the community in the driver's seat, letting their dreams and their needs drive the conversation."

The past seven years have seen significant developments at the Fairgrounds, including the Salvation Army Kroc Center, Tiger Lane, and the Libertyland Disc Golf Course. Although the future of the project remains uncertain, Minervini and Stockwell credit a visionary city government for creating a civic environment where bold ideas can flourish.

"We're living through an exciting time in the history of our city," says Minervini.

"The ultimate goal is to reimagine this space and figure out a way to reactivate the fairgrounds that brings people together across lines that have traditionally divided us and meet all community needs.

"We think of the fairgrounds as an asset not just for the neighborhoods and the city, but for the region as well," Minervini continued. "We truly believe that this can also be a heart for the region. That said, the most pressing need that has surfaced from some of these meetings, is economic opportunity. We have amazing assests in our neighborhoods, but we also have deep unmet needs like transit, health and wellness, educational outcomes, economic opporutnity ... you can try and address these things individually, but we think of those as symptoms of a larger problem, and one way to address them all at once is to get some money flowing back into these neighborhoods, to give them some juice."

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