'We're pumped': Memphis Sports & Events Center officially opens


Gina Butkovich & Corinne S Kennedy | Commercial Appeal

The Memphis Sports & Events Center, a 227,000-square-foot youth sports facility, has officially opened.

The facility boasts eight basketball courts on the south side of the building — with the ability to set up more on the north side. It could be reconfigured to host just about anything besides swimming and ice hockey, such as volleyball or an indoor track meet complete with a throwing circle for shot put, city officials have said, and could host non-sports events like graduations, too.

The sports and events center also has a café with indoor and outdoor seating. 

"We're pumped [to be open]," Kristi Finigan, the national director of business development for Eastern Sports Management, said. "We're excited to make that mix and the marriage of sports tourism and local programing and kind of provide a unique, one-of-a kind experience. You think about it as a parent, and traveling around with your kids and the expense is insane. Now for them to be able to actually have people in this market coming to them is huge."

Prior to the opening of the center, officials said having sports tournaments in Memphis requires splitting up events between different venues. 

"And that's insane with all the basketball talent that we have in this city," Mary Claire Borys, the city's housing and community development project manager, told the Commercial Appeal in February. "This will solve that."

The basketball and volleyball courts were already in use on Saturday. Swarm Basketball, a basketball program out of Cordova, was hosting practices throughout the early afternoon.

"It is definitely an honor to be in a facility of this statute and this size and of this quality," Kasey Ayer, the director of operations at Swarm Basketball, said. "Swarm is in 20 different states across the US, so we see facilities everywhere and there aren't many facilities, if any at all, that look like this. So to be able to identify our program with something, especially something this relevant to the community, is really incredible."

The arena will look completely different in the spring, Finigan said. An Esports arena, a ninja ropes course and performance training, as well as a few other assets, will be added to the center in the coming months.

The sports center is the first phase of a wider Liberty Park project, and while plans have changed somewhat in the past few years, the second phase is planned to be apartments, commercial space, at least one hotel and an entertainment space with activities like mini-golf, laser tag and bowling. That privately-developed portion of the project is being called The District at Liberty Park. 

Preliminary work has started on the next phase of Liberty Park, north of what is being called Young Street — the east-west road north of the events center and south of the Pipkin Building. 

City officials last month said vertical construction could begin on those elements next year and wrap up in 2024. A new road will also be built as part of the project. The city has been negotiating with Capstone Development about the hotel portion of the project, and High 5 Entertainment, which would operate the entertainment space.