Funding deal for Memphis stadium revamp


Ownership of Univ of Memphis stadium transferred Image: University of Memphis

Memphis City Council (US) has given the green light to a deal which allocates $120 million to the University of Memphis for renovations to Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium.

Commercial Appeal said the deal also hands over ownership of the stadium, home of the Memphis Tiger football program, to the University.

The 58,325-capacity Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium is located at the former Mid-South Fairgrounds in the Midtown area of Memphis, Tennessee, United States.

The $120 million is only a portion of the $350 million the city received from the state for various stadium renovation projects in the city.

FedEx founder and chairman Fred Smith and his family announced a $50 million donation for stadium renovations in November. The university announced a fundraising campaign for an additional $50 million, which would give it the $220 million it requires to renovate the stadium.

Commercial Appeal stated that the donation is in the form of a challenge grant, which means the university needs to raise the other $50 million before Smith’s $50 million is unlocked. Because of that, and because a deal still needs to be reached between the university and the stadium’s tenants, there is no clear timeline for the project.

Before the deal was agreed, a number of provisions were added, including:

  • A new committee that will meet to discuss the progress of the stadium renovation and possibly continue after it’s completed.
  • New multiyear agreements with the Southern Heritage Classic and AutoZone Liberty Bowl, both of which take place at the stadium.
  • A clause that would allow the city to buy back the stadium for $1 if the university ever wanted to sell it. The original LOI would have given the city the ability to match any offer the university received.

City officials have said the stadium is losing about $3.36 million a year.

Memphis Athletics said in a statement after the vote, “We are incredibly appreciative of the City Council for sharing our vision and voting to approve this resolution on Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium, which will position our University and football program for sustained success.

“We look forward to working collaboratively in the coming weeks with the City administration, the Southern Heritage Classic, the AutoZone Liberty Bowl and the USFL to formalize agreements that will set us all up for success into the future.”

University of Memphis Athletics has said that the stadium renovation design phase is currently well underway with construction slated to begin after the 2023 football season and completion anticipated by the start of the 2025 season.

Meanwhile, FedExForum — where the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies and university Tigers men’s basketball team play home games — is also in need of renovations. The Grizzlies have said they need around $550 million for the renovations, and the city only has $230 million in cash remaining from the state.

The 18,119-capacity FedExForum is a multipurpose arena located in Downtown Memphis, Tennessee (US).

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