Behind the Headlines – August 18, 2017

Behind the Headlines – August 18, 2017


– (female announcer)
Production funding for Behind the Headlines is made possible in part by the WKNO Production Fund,
the WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like
you, thank you. – The future of the fairgrounds, tonight on Behind the Headlines. [dramatic orchestral music] I’m Eric Barnes, publisher
of The Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining us. We’re joined tonight
by Marvin Stockwell, Co-Founder of Friends
of the Fairgrounds, thanks for being here. – Thanks for having me. – (Eric)
Paul Young is Director of Housing & Community
Development for the city, Development for the city,
thanks for being here. – Thanks for having me. – (Eric)
Fred Jones, Founder of The Southern Heritage Classic.
Thanks for joining us. – My pleasure. – And Bill Dries,
senior reporter with The Memphis Daily News. So, I’ll start with you, Paul. I was looking back, I think
this is maybe the third or fourth show we’ve done
and I’ve probably started every single one as the
future of the fairgrounds, as I now think about it. But there had been plans,
there’s been a lot of talk. Is this planning process
different than the others? – I think it’s different
in that we are starting with the premise that we’re
using the previous planning efforts as insight for
how we move forward. We’re not starting with
a blank slate because we understand that the
community has given a lot of input on this site, and
so we wanna take the input that’s been received to
date and try to put it on an aggressive timeline. As many people know, we have
a significant opportunity to utilize what is called
the Tourism Development Zone, TDZ, as we always refer to it. And this allows us
to use existing, it allows us to use the
growth in sales taxes beyond the increment
that exists today. And so what that does is
it allows us to finance improvements in a way that
is neutral to the city. And so we wanna make sure– – It’s sales tax that’s
all ready being paid that goes to the state. – Exactly, and so if we
build something at the fair grounds that will draw a
large number of people, presumably those people
will spend money in and around the fairgrounds. So, areas like Cooper
Young, Orange Mound, Overton Square, we want
to see those areas benefit from this boom and take
those sales taxes from the money that those
people spend to finance improvements at the fairgrounds. – Okay, and we’ll go
deeper into some of those, how those things work, as we… So, we’ll come back
to some of that. But Marvin Stockwell,
you all co-founded Friends of the Fair
Ground in 2015? – (Marvin)
Early 2016. – And tell people
who don’t know what Friends of the fairgrounds is. – So, Friends of the Fairgrounds
we had a stakeholder input process where we talked
to all of the organizational stakeholders on or adjacent
to the fairgrounds, and all of the
neighborhoods around, so Orange Mound,
Cooper Young, Beltline, Humes Heights, my neighborhood,
Chickasaw Gardens, Glenview, and Edwin
Circle, and we just said, “What do you all wanna see
the fairgrounds become?” And what we got was a
picture of community needs that these neighbors and the
organizational stakeholders said they’d like to see
the fairgrounds address. What I’m encouraged about
the current process is that all of the, our vision doc
called Heart of the City has been included in
the materials that were being reviewed
amongst the old plans. So, I’m encouraged that
everything we learn will also inform the process. And the reason we’re
still involved is because we’re really encouraged
by the transparency that we’ve seen and we hope
that will continue. And we hope that we can
find that win-win where we have something that
fulfills the requirements of the TDZ application,
leaves open the possibility for other ideas,
other funding streams, and also keeps
in mind the needs that the stakeholders
have addressed. – Right, and we’ll come
back to you and get some of the input you heard
through all the process. But let me get Fred involved. Fred, the Southern
Heritage Classic has been held at Liberty Bowl since when? – (Fred)
1990. – And for people that
don’t know what it is, give us your pitch. Give us your history and the
significance of the game. – Well, it started off
at this football game between Tennessee State
and Jackson State. But we had developed
it into a really big community celebration. And it is kind of taken
on a life of its own, but the idea originally
was to just football game, but when you add entertainment,
when you add the community, when you add economic
development, tourism, all of that became a
part of what is now The Southern Heritage Classic. But it started off with
just a football game. – And for you, I mean,
as you just said, this very successful game
that’s become more than a game. For you, the Liberty Bowl and
the fair grounds have worked. I mean, are you
wary of change or are you excited about
the possibility of more improvements around that area? – I’m not worried of change
because it’s changed already. I mean, you go from
when we started, you had a lot of cow barns
and everything out there. Now we got a clear
space called Tiger Lane. So, being in the business
that I’m in and have been in a really long
time, you adapt to change. But you just have to,
whatever’s going to happen, you wanna be able to
co-exist in what’s there. So, we can adapt to the change, and there are certain things
I’d like them to keep in mind. – Such as, and then we’re
gonna go to Bill, but go ahead, you said change… – The biggest thing is
how we can accommodate all these people. – Which is, in part, just
a simple issue of parking and transit, right,
and getting people in and out? – Absolutely, and there is
a lot of factors in that and hopefully in this
planning process, they will keep that in mind
because for instance right now, I’ve got 500 tailgate
spots and they’ve all been sold since August 1st. And the game is not
until September 9. So, it’s something that
you have to keep in mind but I wanna make clear that
I’m not against change. I just wanna make sure
that we are able to exist in this change, whatever
this change ends up being. – Bill. – So, to that point, Fred,
can these large events that fill the Liberty Bowl,
65,000 seats plus, and a lot of tailgating,
people who are tailgating who might just go to
that and not to the game. How difficult is it to
co-exist with new uses at the Fairground? I guess it depends
on the geography and where those new uses are
and new facilities are. – Well, I think that, you
know, Paul mentioned earlier about the UL–? – (Bill)
Urban Land Institute Study. – In that study, they did
not mention a football game. So, the football games
are gonna be here, for me, I’ve got 10,000
plus people tailgating, have 40, 50 thousand
people at the game, what are we gonna do
with all of these people with all of these
other things going on? So, it just, being a
part of the process, not to dictate what’s
going to happen, but whatever happens,
you keep that in mind, that a major, major
happening is going to happen at this fairgrounds, and for us, the happening impacts
the entire city. So, it’s not what just
happens at the fairgrounds, it’s spread out all over
town, have a major impact. That’s always been my concern. But again, I wanna
repeat this again, it’s not about being
against change, but when you make these changes, can this football game, the
way that it is right now, and you hope that it’s
going to get bigger. Three or four years from now, you hope that you
have more people. What you gonna do with them,
where you gonna put them? So, that’s my concern. – Paul, talk to
me about the plan. I think sometimes, I’ve
certainly been guilty of it, of just focusing on, okay,
what can you do here, what can you do here. To Fred’s point, your plan,
your set of recommendations is it going to involve more, is it going to address those
questions like transit, how you move people,
and where they go? – Absolutely, we understand
completely where Fred is coming from, we know how
significant this game is to this city, and
not just this game, but the University of Memphis
and Autozone Liberty Bowl. We know what economic impact
that brings to this community and so anything that we have
to do has to be respectful of how we accommodate
those users on those days. Our goal is to try to
figure out how to maximize use of the site. We have, so, you know, we
give, let’s say it’s a whole weekend for each
of those events, that’s 27 days that
the space is activated. And so we have another
330 days that we wanna activate the site. So, we’re trying to figure
out what uses can bring people to the site,
accommodate them, move people around in
a way that’s efficient. We’re looking at strategies
that range from how we can use shuttles to park, and I’ve heard people
say people in Memphis don’t use shuttles. But when you have
significant events like this, maybe that is an option. How can we find ways to
get people to or from in an efficient manner. So, that’s definitely something
that we’re looking at. – So, Marvin, what’s your
view on this as someone who’s talked a lot about
future possibilities? Is there a point at
which Fred’s reality, the reality of the
Tigers, the reality of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, does that kind of
influence what you’ve seen? Because to some degree,
there has been a tendency to look at this as a
blank slate, I think. – (Marvin)
Sure. – And Fred mentioned
the ULI study, which didn’t consult some
folks heavily involved in this. – Right, our existing
assets meeting jumps to mind as a great example. I mean, the way we’ve looked
at it from the moment, from the asset, is that
the fairgrounds are not living up to its’ potential. So, obviously we all ready
have some fantastic assets at the fairgrounds, but our
existing assets meeting, we got out maps and we
said which of these assets are great and working
at full capacity. Which ones are great amenities
but they could be used more. And what are some of
the missing amenities that might make the existing
ones succeed at a larger level? And there were lots of great
ideas that stemmed from that. So, like, I don’t see
all these things as diametrically opposed
or, I think it’s finding the right mix of the amenities. To, like Paul said,
maximize use of the space to get rid of those
fence lines, welcome the community
in, welcome tourists in, finding the right
balance between, one of the things that
came up through with our stakeholders is they want
the fairgrounds re-imagined with them in mind. They don’t wanna be kept out,
they wanna be welcomed in. But they are okay with
it if it’s something that tourists also love,
and I feel like that’s the sweet spot. If Memphis can put heads
and hearts together and figure that out, then we
can check the tourism boxes that the TDZ requires,
but also deliver on what our stakeholders are
saying they want. So, I think there are a
lot of smart people around the civic table trying
to figure this out, and I have every
confidence we will in a way that makes us all win
on a larger level. – What is the timeline
on the TDZ application? – So, our goal is to
submit an application by the end of the year, and the
reason why we want to submit it by the end of the
year is because it’s been 10 years since the initial
application was submitted. And while there is no firm
deadline for the TDZ application to expire, we know that
time is of the essence. And so, we’ve been
dealing with this issue for the past 10 years. And it’s time for us to
really come to a conclusion as a community as to
whether we’re going to maximize this
opportunity or we’re not. – And there’s some talk, and
TDZ, just get into the weeds here a little bit, it
would be approved by the– – State Building Commission. – Okay, and the TDZ was done
around the university area, Highland Row, Highland
Strip, is that correct? – That was actually a TIF. – (Bill)
That’s a TIF. – Yeah, Tax Increment Financing. – I know, after eight years
I know what a PILOT is but I get the TDZ and the TIF,
(people laughing) In the next eight years,
I’m gonna master that. So, there’s some concern
that the state is gonna maybe end TDZs,
I’ve certainly read that– – Well, the state
has ended TDZs, and that’s part of our urgency
is this is the last TDZ that can be approved
by the state because we submitted our
letter before 2007. – That’s what I was
confused about, okay. So, the kind of improvements,
well, go through a few. Over the years, things
have been talked about, a brewery in the coliseum
was recently talked about. There was ULI to
suggest a water park. There’s certainly been
suggestions of retail, housing, you know, just kind
of traditional development. Which of these, anything
that is developed, would it be city
owned, city dollars, or is it private investors? Is it selling off the land? What is the vision of
how all that would work. – So, the city will
not sell the land. Our goal is to work out a
land lease for whatever happens there, similar to
what happened at The Pyramid. We still own the building but
the building is being leased. So, we are leaning
towards that direction. In terms of the land uses
that have been proposed, things like you said,
retail, I think at one time they were calling for 400,000
square feet of retail, which that was in
a different era, before big box kind
of went out of style. And now the plan is for in
the ULI study, at least, 22,000 square feet of retail, which we think is
much more reasonable. We have– – And that would
not be the city, just so people understand,
that’s not the city getting into the
drugstore business. It’s a lease with some entity,
some sort of bidding process. – Right, we would have to
do a process for a master developer who would come
in and pull together other financing. The TDZ would be used
for infrastructure. And those costs– – I’m sorry, to interrupt
could infrastructure include a parking garage? Is that the kind of
thing that might be– – Absolutely, I mean, that’s
certainly one of the things that we’re looking at. We know that parking
is a major concern and we think that structured
parking allows us to be able to accommodate
more cars in a finite area. – It is interesting
to think about, and I don’t know, I’ll
turn to you, Fred. In the years that we’ve
been doing shows on this and writing about it
in the last five years, one things that’s
really changed, Paul mentioned the
change in big box retail. Some people would say
thank god we didn’t build 400,000 square feet of
retail space there because it’d probably be half empty. But the other thing is U
of M football got good. Back three or four years ago, they weren’t drawing
many people at all, and now they’re drawing people. That dynamic, in terms
of thinking about change, thinking about changes
in college football and a planning process
that looks forward, your thoughts on that. – Well, I’ve always said
that if the University of Memphis was averaging 35
or 40 thousand people a game, the whole dynamic, the whole
conversation would change. It would just change
because these events are so dynamic in what they have… You have the number
at the stadium, but they impact so much more. So, to have this on
a consistent basis, it’s like going to UT-
Knoxville on Volz day when it’s 100,000 people there. That’s a whole
different conversation. And so, the conversation for
us, not only would you have the football games, and that’s
why it becomes important, to think about it in this
process because we all hope that the University of
Memphis football program continues to grow because
that’s gonna be better for our city in the longterm. – Do you all do any kind
of estimates on economic impact from Southern
Heritage Classic? – Yeah, in fact the University
of Memphis did mine. The last one, they’ve
done three of them, the last one the benefit
to the city on the weekend is $21 million. And we didn’t put
all the numbers in. – That’s things like people
going, they come in town, they go to restaurants,
they stay in hotels, they’re spending money. Because there’s
football and, you know, people watching may or
may not be football fans but part of this is
just pure economics and economic development. – Well, again, I
mentioned that earlier, where we started from
with just a game. But it’s evolved into more
than that and that’s why in this planning
for the fairgrounds, we have to keep that in mind
that these types of things, any of these games
are the same way. The more successful
the games are, more people, the head
count, it’s gonna have a big impact on this community. There’s no question about that. – Yeah, Bill. – So, Marvin, if your wish
comes true and there is a fairgrounds conservancy at
the end of this process, still to be determined on that, how do you think that
conservancy should balance what he’s talking about, that
tremendous economic impact, with trying to have other
catalyst on the fairgrounds property as well? – Yeah, that’s a great question. I think that is the thing
that I keep coming back to about having a public private
partnering organization to help manage the
land over time. Not only the re-development
process of it, but let’s say it’s all,
it’s five years from now and all the
construction is done and all the tenants are in place. What is the mechanism by
which all of those tenants talk to each other because,
again, I think that that’s part of what can make everyone
win on a larger level, is the coordination. Now sitting here today, I
don’t know what that mix of amenities is, or will be, but obviously, I think you
have to balance the needs of all users. No one wants to do anything
that’s gonna take something away from the Southern
Heritage Classic, we of course want it
to continue to grow. We want the U of M program
to continue to grow. My over-arching goal is
to just see something that’s right in the
center of our city be all it can be, to be
a vibrant center of more activity and to be used
more often than it is. The particular mix of
amenities, whether or not there’s a parking garage
certainly seems likely to me. Whether we re-open
the coliseum or not, which I think people
are starting to realize that’s not so undo-able,
although I know that has a host of things that
would fill in its own show. (people laughing) But I think there are,
it’s impossible to know which mix of amenities
we’ll end up with, but I think they can
all work in harmony. They can all make
each other better. That’s what I’d like to
see and I’m sure that’s what Paul’s dreaming about, too. – And Paul, not to put
the cart before the horse, but tell me what you think
at the outset of this about the idea of a conservancy. Do you need, as he said,
sometimes a kind of mechanism in there? – I think it’s all driven
by what actually happens with the planning process,
what actually goes on the site. What would the
conservancy conserve? Right now, our parks
division work handles all of the lease agreements
with University of Memphis and Southern Heritage
Classic, and Liberty Bowl. So, we would have to
figure out what exactly the responsibilities for
a conservancy would be. But I think the city’s
open to the idea. We also need to
figure out what assets physically go on the site. Right now, I think it’s
important to note that the site is already excellent,
there are great things that are happening at
the fairgrounds today with the Children’s Museum,
with all of the events that are hosted around
football with the stakeholders that we just mentioned,
with the Croc Center. All of these assets
are excellent. Right now at the STEAM Academy,
Maxine Smith with STEAM Academy has been excellent
for this community. So, we wanna build around those
existing excellent assets. – Somebody mentioned
the coliseum. Paul Young, what’s gonna
happen with the coliseum? – I don’t know. (men laughing) And I was talking to
somebody the other day and I was telling them, I’m
a fan of the coliseum, I graduated from high
school at the coliseum. I think it’s a great
structure, but our goal is to make sure that the
numbers make sense. It’s a $20 to $30 million
investment and we have to make sure
that the numbers pencil out and we’re gonna let data
determine our decision making. And whatever happens
with the coliseum, we want to be respectful of
the opinions of the community, but we also know that $20 to
$30 million is a lot of money that we have to figure
out how we use it in an effective way. – Is it possible to, I mean,
you’ve got this TDZ deadline and that money that’s
potentially out there, but you’ve also got… I mean, if you break it
down, the coliseum is a big question, then
there’s a whole lot of just open green space. Is it possible that
certain things are settled in this planning process, and questions like the
coliseum are left unanswered as part of this? – Yeah, that’s
definitely possible. In fact, that’s one of the
things that we’ve talked about with some of the stakeholders, that every issue
may not be resolved by the end of this year. What we wanna do is identify
what is the big draw, what’s the thing that
really anchors this TDZ for this community, and
if we have not figured out all the answers to every
component on the fairgrounds, we can continue to work on
those pieces of the project. – Marvin, back to the
neighborhood meetings you had. What do neighbors want? I mean, do they just
want park space? Do they want to see retail? I mean, is every neighborhood
a little different? What are they calling for? – There are some
over-arching themes, the biggest being that
they want the fairgrounds re-imagined with them in mind. They feel like they have not
been sufficiently welcomed in. They miss the connection
with that land that they once had
and they want it back. Quite frankly, they
miss the connection with the Mid-South Coliseum,
and the WDIA shows that happened there. They miss the, you know,
they remember a time when their teenagers got their
first good job at Liberty Land, and I’m not sitting here
proposing that we rebuild Liberty Land by any stretch, but that is a desire that
the stakeholders articulated. Jobs came through
really strongly. It’s not lost on them
that the western extension of the Green line is going
to go to Flicker Street, and that the likely
extension of the Green Line through the
fairgrounds would also, when you add onto the
proposed Bike Share Program, might really open up
a five mile radius around the fairgrounds,
especially if, and here’s another thing,
they see it as an ideal mass transit node. Do I know how to solve
those things today? I don’t, but our stakeholders
want it to be a safe, fair place for everyone,
with forward facing, healthy amenities where
families can go and enjoy, and fellowship together, and they want healthy
things for their families to be able to do. – Fred, from your point-of-view
just be selfish for a second, just think about the
Southern Heritage Classic. What are the one or two things
you would love to see done, is it a hotel, is it
restaurants there? Is it amenities for
the event that would be the thing you would say, “That’s
what I would love to have.” – Well, being selfish, I
wouldn’t propose anything specifically for The
Southern Heritage Classic. It would have to be city driven
for me, community driven, where it makes sense. And I’ve been on the record
for a long time with this that the coliseum is
special to me because at one time I was on the
board of the coliseum. Elvis is here now and I remember
seeing one of the Elvis’, I saw Elvis’ last show that
he performed at the coliseum. But for me, it had to be
about what the community, something that the
community can embrace because, I said earlier,
I’ll adapt to the change. But we got, today, people
expect to be serviced and accommodated when
they come to an event. As big as the stadium is, as
big as the FedEx Forum is, the Orpheum, it doesn’t
matter, Landis Center, they want to have
some accommodations and we definitely
need to do that. – All right, well we give you
the last word right there. Thank you all for being here
and thank you for joining us. Join us again next
week, goodnight. [dramatic orchestral music] [acoustic guitar chord]

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