Liberty Park already booking events as construction hits halfway point

BILL DRIES | DAILY MEMPHIAN

Halfway through construction of the city’s $56 million youth sports complex and the transition of the Fairgrounds to Liberty Park, organizers of youth sports tournaments are already contacting the city about booking the 227,000-square-foot center.

“We have been fielding inquiries from tournaments and event organizers for a while,” Mary Claire Borys, manager of strategic initiatives for the city’s Housing and Community Development Division said during a Wednesday, Feb. 9, media tour of the construction site.

“We have a whole architects’ tour they are able to look at,” she said. “They want to know how many kids they can cycle in and out over the course of a weekend for a tournament —basketball, volleyball, pickleball — whatever it is.”

Although that doesn’t apply to swimming or hockey events.

“No hockey,” Borys said as the tour moved to what will be the front doors of the structure facing the dormant Mid-South Coliseum.

The city has hired a firm to book events in the center and inquiries to the city are going to that firm already. The first events are booked for this October, ahead of the formal November opening. Construction began last May.

The Memphis Sports and Events Center — as it is formally known — is the centerpiece of Liberty Park, the new name for a Fairgrounds footprint that will feature retail development on its Central Avenue frontage and the sports complex near its southwest corner where the old Libertyland amusement park once stood.

Andre Nowell of Turner Construction has gone back further in the site’s history to its days as Montgomery Park.

“In the early 1800s, there was a horse race track here with a really large grandstand,” he told The Daily Memphian from a windswept third-floor mezzanine area of the structure.

That structure is still taking shape with the Coliseum and Liberty Bowl looming to the east and filling the makeshift frame of the girders for now.

“I thought it was interesting and a full circle moment that now with the new sports and event center we are going to have a grandstand as well,” Nowell said. “It will still be a place for the community where everybody can get together and still have memorable moments.”

The event pavilion will seat 2,500 with seating suites on the mezzanine that are a departure from the usual bleachers-only seating at such tournament sites.

One of the two parts of the event center is 75,000 square feet of column-free space that is a sought-after feature in the world of sports tournaments as well as conventions and meetings.

“It has truly been a challenge, whether it’s the long trusses or coordinating with the city on traffic control,” Nowell said. “We continue to be adaptable, to think outside of the box to make sure this is still on schedule.”

The column-free space uses eight trusses of 290 feet each and each weighing 200,000 pounds.

One of the trusses arrived on the site during the tour.

The south side of the facility is 69,000 square feet of hard court space with a single column that can convert to basketball and volleyball.

The building will also completely house track meets.

A crew of 55 worked Wednesday with a dirt floor that had a few puddles of melted ice and deep tire tracks from the heavy equipment. Nowell said as the building takes shape, the workforce will likely increase to 80 to 100 workers.

The center will include three outdoor soccer fields as well.

“We’re really creating a campus-like environment so families can come here,” Borys said. “The kids can visit between competitions and stay in a hotel on site, eat at restaurants on site or wander over to Cooper-Young or Overton Square.”

The city plans to improve the intersection at East Parkway where an extension of Young Avenue will bring visitors into and out of the complex grounds.