Where does Liberty Park construction stand? Here's a look at what could open this fall

CORINNE KENNEDY | THE COMMERCIAL APPEAL

Construction is plowing ahead at the Liberty Park development and the grand opening of the first phase of the project, the Memphis Sports & Events Center, is on track for this fall, Memphis officials said Wednesday. The massive city project is being erected next to the Liberty Bowl and Mid-South Coliseum.

Mary Claire Borys, the city's housing and community development project manager, said a grand opening is likely in November, with events soon to follow. And those events will be myriad and large in scale. 

"You name it, we can have it in this building," she said during a tour of the construction site. 

The well over 250,000-square-foot facility will have eight basketball courts on the south side of the building — with the ability to set up more on the north side — and could also host volleyball or be set up for an indoor track meet complete with a throwing circle for shot put. The facility can be configured to host almost anything except swimming and ice hockey, including non-sporting events like trade shows and graduations. 

Right now, Borys 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," she said. "This will solve that."

Work was ongoing Wednesday, and the development team said workers were at the site for 12 to 13 hours a day, six days a week to keep the project on schedule for a fall opening. This week, concrete was poured on the mezzanine level and roof work was ongoing, among other work. 

The number of workers on-site daily has recently increased from 35 to 65 and could further increase as the facility nears completion. 

As part of the project, an east-west street to the north of the complex, south of the Pipkin Building, was straightened and repaved. For now, it is called Young Avenue, though it could change. 

The front door of the complex will face east toward the coliseum. A roundabout drop-off will be constructed in front, with surface parking to the north and south. Amenities at the facility also include a café with indoor and outdoor seating. 

The entire building will stretch more than 500 feet from north to south and the northern section of the main floor has 75,000 square feet of columnless space. 

On that side, which will have a hard floor that can be converted into multiple court configurations for different sports, there will also be bleachers stretching up from just above court level to a VIP mezzanine level. Those stands will be able to seat about 2,000 people with separate access to the mezzanine. 

And that has some significance for basketball tournaments, Borys said. 

"When it's AAU recruiting time, we can keep the scouts and coaches separate from the players," she said, laughing. 

There will also be space for a full broadcast booth and TV platform, she added. Borys described the facility as the type of place that could hold Olympic trials for certain sports. 

To the south of the facility, on what is currently open grass, there will be soccer fields eventually constructed, Borys said. 

Once finished, the sports and events complex will be managed by Virginia-based Eastern Sports Management. ESM President John Wack said there wasn't another facility to match what is being built in Memphis. 

“The amenities and architecture of the space are one thing, but to be walking distance from activities like the Children’s Museum of Memphis or High 5’s future miniature golf course — and to be just blocks from (the) Overton Square and Cooper-Young districts — makes Liberty Park a prime destination for competing youth and their families," he said in a news release. 

Plans for Liberty Park's next phase

North of the facility, on the other side of the new Young Avenue, officials expect to break ground this fall — infrastructure support work will begin this spring — on the next phase of the project, she Borys said.

That will include about 300 multi-family units, commercial space and 45,000 square feet of family entertainment space with activities like bowling and mini-golf. It will also include one hotel to start, Borys said, though there will be space for a possible second hotel. 

The total Liberty Park project is estimated to cost $126 million. 

Doug McGowen, chief operating officer for the City of Memphis, said there had been a great deal of progress on Liberty Park and development around the city. 

“As the foundation is laid and the beams are raised for our Memphis Sports & Events Center, our vision for a 365-day-a-year tourism destination is in motion, both on time and on budget," he said in a release.