Memphis Sports & Events Center is open for business — and play

Alicia Davidson | Daily Memphian

Local politicians joined residents and community leaders Saturday, Dec. 10, for the grand opening of the Memphis Sports & Events Center, at 995 Early Maxwell Blvd., broadening the city’s access to competitive sports facilities.

The grand opening was held from 10 to 10:30 a.m., with a formal open house from noon to 3 p.m.

Located at the former Memphis Fairgrounds, now known as Liberty Park, the long-awaited 227,000 square-foot facility boasts 16 basketball courts, 32 volleyball courts and 3,500 spectator seats and is expected to bring in foot traffic of more than two million people annually.

The venue will soon include a cafe with indoor and outdoor seating, an E-sports center, a parkour course and a rope course.

The $60 million project was completed by Turner Construction with architectural design by Memphis-based firm BRG3S Architects.

Numerous local politicians and community leaders were in attendance for the grand opening, including Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, state Rep. John Gillespie, Senator Brent Taylor, Memphis City Councilman JB Smiley, Memphis City Councilwoman Jana Swearengen-Washington and Memphis City Councilman Dr. Jeff Warren.

President and CEO of Memphis Tourism Kevin Kane and WMC-TV Sports Director Jarvis Greer were also in attendance.

Calling it “a centerpiece of Liberty Park,” Strickland gave opening remarks noting the great economic and community opportunities of the new complex.

“Nothing builds quality young people like team sports, and this building will help improve Memphis lives,” Strickland said. “Today begins the next chapter for our youth regional sports complex for sports tourism and for these young people here in Memphis.

“Sports tourism and Memphis youth: that’s what this is about.”

As a parent who traveled hundreds of miles around the country so his own children could play competitively, Strickland said he understands the financial and logistical need for the new complex.

“Rarely could we play in Memphis because we didn’t have a facility,” Strickland said. “It brings thousands of people to that destination. We will have hundreds of thousands of people per year come to Memphis because of this facility, spending money in the city, creating jobs, and it will be a huge national destination.

“This is a great Christmas present for Memphis.”

Strickland noted without the team effort by the City of Memphis, Memphis City Council and a $10 million donation from the State of Tennessee, the new Tourist Development Zone (TDZ) at Liberty Park would not have been possible.

Turner Construction is responsible for site infrastructure for a planned 18-acre mixed-use development area near the sports center, which will be called The District at Liberty Park.

The District at Liberty Park will be located on Central Avenue and include a hotel, food and beverage, apartments and family entertainment.

Construction for the private development of The District at Liberty Park is slated to begin sometime in 2023.

The future development will add even more amenities to the growing Liberty Park, which now includes Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium and Tiger Lane, the Children’s Museum of Memphis, Kroc Center and Memphis Sports & Events Center.

John Wack is president of Eastern Sports Management, the company that operates Memphis Sports & Events Center.

“It’s our job now to fill this building,” Wack said. “They said, ‘Build it, and they will come.’ Well, I’m here to tell you that they are coming.”

Wack said the 2023 calendar already has 50 events across ten different sports, and the facility has already caught the attention of national tournament operators, national sports governing bodies and Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) organizations from California to New York.

“There are several very large events that we’re still working on that we’ll be announcing shortly that will have an incredible impact on the local community,” Wack said.

JB Smiley Jr. took to the podium, noting as a youth athlete for the basketball team, the Memphis Golden Eagles, he would fundraise on street corners to raise money so his team could participate in a national basketball tournament.

Smiley said the tournament was held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

“Every time there is an opportunity for a Memphis team to do well, you have to go outside of this region, but because of this facility, I say, ‘No more,’” Smiley said. “No more will youth teams have to raise money to try and go play in a national tournament outside because those tournaments will choose to come to Memphis.”

As the opening ceremony came to a close, local youth sports teams hit the courts, playing soccer, volleyball and basketball as friends and family observed from the bleachers.

Bold Athletics is a Memphis-based volleyball league and is a tenant of Memphis Sports & Events Center.

Madison Kyles, 13, is an outside hitter for the Bold Athletics volleyball team. Kyles said at her former home base at World Overcomers Church, the facilities were smaller with different types of practices.

“This facility is full; it’s bigger than where we just came from,” Kyles said. “Being a team and coming together in a new facility is like a new start, so we get everyone to practice and see how everybody plays, then you have fun scrimmages at the end.”

Kyles said the expansive and varied nature of facility amenities and program offerings has made her more optimistic and excited to gather with other youth and play sports.

“Just seeing the concession stand, the hallways and other courts — this makes me feel good because more kids can come and play, and it doesn’t have to just be volleyball,” Kyles said. “They can play basketball, soccer — anything. It’s really fun.”

For more information on Memphis Sports & Events Center, click here