postcard courtesy teh collection of Vance Lauderdale

Why It Matters:

Revitalizing the Mid-South Fairgrounds area is a long-anticipated event for residents and businesses in the Central Avenue and Beltline neighborhoods. Since Libertyland and the Mid-South Coliseum closed, much of the Fairgrounds has been vacant, except during recurring flea markets and during football season when Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium attracts visitors. But the opening of The Salvation Army Kroc Center next year promises to spur a new era of growth and development there.


City of Memphis, The Salvation Army Kroc Center, Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Southern Heritage Classic, Christian Brothers University, University of Memphis, Children’s Museum of Memphis; Fairview Middle School; area residents and businesses.

Leaders and Consultants:

Robert Lipscomb, City of Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development; Stephen Carpenter, The Salvation Army Kroc Center; Shirley Raines, University of Memphis; Steve Ehrhart, AutoZone Liberty Bowl; Fred Jones, Southern Heritage Classic; Janet Hooks, City of Memphis Parks and Neighborhoods

Area Boundaries:

East Parkway, Central Ave., Hollywood St., Southern Ave.

Area History:

The Mid-South Fairgrounds are situated on 168 acres just east of Midtown. In the 1800s, the area was a plantation, a horse racing track, and home to the Shelby County Fair. The City of Memphis purchased the land in 1897. The Mid-South Fair called the Fairgrounds home from the early 1900s to 2008. The Mid-South Coliseum opened in 1964, the Liberty Bowl in 1965, and the Children’s Museum of Memphis in 1990. In 2005, a Fairgrounds redevelopment committee recommended new land uses, including the permanent closure of the Mid-South Coliseum and the demolition of Tim McCarver Stadium and Libertyland. The Salvation Army purchased land in 2007 to develop the Kroc Center, which broke ground in 2010.

Current Conditions:

Renovations are currently under way at the Liberty Bowl. A JumboTron is being installed along with new AstroTurf, lighting, a sound system, elevators for the press boxes, concession stands, and new paint. Tiger Lane, a tailgating park next to the Liberty Bowl, opened in 2010. The Salvation Army Kroc Center is currently under construction on 15 acres at the Mid-South Fairgrounds, just south of Central on East Parkway.

Ideal Situation:

The Kroc Center will be a 100,000-square-foot recreation, health and wellness, education, worship, and arts center, with NBA-quality basketball courts, soccer fields, aquatic features, a fitness center, art rooms, 300-seat chapel and performing-arts space, classrooms, and meeting rooms. Ideally, it will be a magnet for area youth, adults, families, and senior citizens. With the University of Memphis entering the Big East conference in 2013, the football team hopes to play in a stadium more on par with those of its new in-conference rivals and in front of larger crowds than in the past.

How to Get to the Ideal:

The Salvation Army Kroc Center is scheduled to open in January 2013. Improvements to the Liberty Bowl will be made prior to the University of Memphis Tigers’ first game. The Kroc Center needs to become a popular nexus for recreational and community activities. The biggest unknown is whether or not the Tigers can compete on the field, drawing enough fans and selling enough tickets to justify and help pay back the cost of improvements and program spending increases. it may come down to football wins and losses. The Fairgrounds is further sustainable if it becomes dynamic enough to draw in new investments and businesses.

Current Funding Situation:

Memphis was chosen as one of 25 cities in the U.S. to receive a matching gift from the Kroc Trust to build a Kroc Center. To receive the funding, $25 million had to be raised locally, which was met a few years later. The Kroc Trust ultimately gave $62 million for construction and an endowment for operating funds. The Liberty Bowl is owned by the City of Memphis and runs on a $200,000 yearly deficit. The Memphis City Council approved $6.5 million in improvements for the stadium in April 2012. The University of Memphis is committed to using $500,000 in annual revenues for 15 years to pay for the upgrades, and FedEx covered the $2.5 million cost of the installation of a new JumboTron.

Funding Goal:

The Memphis City Council is applying for the Fairgrounds to be designated a Tourist Development Zone by the state government. If this is approved, incoming tax revenues in the zone will be used to pay off the $9 million in bonds that will fund the renovations and interest. As of our deadline, the state had not yet ruled on the application. If the state does not approve the TDZ status, the University of Memphis might donate $6.5 million it will be receive from joining the Big East conference over a 15-year period to pay for Liberty Bowl improvements. The Salvation Army Kroc Center is paid for and an endowment covers operating costs. 

Jobs Created:

Among the companies involved in the design, planning, architecture, engineering, and construction of various projects so far are Renaissance Group, Looney Ricks Kiss, Fleming Associates Architects, brg3s Architects, Montgomery Martin Contractors, Toles & Associates, and Capturion. Once complete, the Kroc Center looks to hire about 45 full-time and 100 seasonal employees.

How You Can Help:

Membership to The Salvation Army Kroc Center will open up once the facility is completed. Buy tickets to Memphis Tigers, AutoZone Liberty Bowl, and Southern Heritage Classic football games — and buy lots of concessions (the revenues of which go to the City of Memphis).


Steve Carpenter, director of operations, The Salvation Army Kroc Center, at 729-8007; or for information about Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, go to thelibertybowlstadium.com.

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