Bleak House: What’s going on with the Mid-South Coliseum

High Ground News

July 9, 2014

Elvis sang there. The Beatles played there. Professional wrestler Jerry Lawler pile-drove comedian Andy Kaufman there in 1983 in an infamous match that landed the two on national television with “Late Night with David Letterman.”

For several generations of Memphians, the Mid-South Coliseum was the center of the entertainment universe. Despite this status as a pop culture altar, its future is bleak. The Coliseum most certainly faces destruction, either quickly, by wrecking ball, or slowly, by neglect.

The Coliseum sits among the Mid-South Fairgrounds, a 168-acre former horseracing track, Montgomery Park, that was purchased by the city in 1897. The area was considered for wholesale revision in 1960 as the Linkletter-Vandenburg Plan, created by entertainer Art Linkletter and business partner Clyde Vandenburg, recommended vast changes to the property. Among such visions as a 700-foot-long lagoon was the plan for a multi-use arena–the Coliseum–the only portion of the plan to see the light of day.

Built in 1964, it was closed for good in 2006 after being determined too cost prohibitive to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Since then, it has sat empty, neglected, a tomb to the memories and milestones of thousands–first concerts, Monday Night Wrestling, graduations, monster truck shows.

Another plan, one with a bit more traction than Linkletter-Vandenburg, is currently being touted. A Tourism Development Zone (TDZ) is proposed by the City of Memphis and destined for a vote in Nashville later this month. The 3-mile-wide zone would encompass the nearby Cooper-Young business district, burgeoning Overton Square and the Fairgrounds, and use excess sales tax from those areas to repay bonds used to fund the $233 million project. A far-reaching plan for the Fairgrounds calls for a complex of athletic fields, retail space, a hotel and residential units.

If the TDZ is accepted, the Coliseum most surely will be demolished. Regardless, though, the city disconnected utilities to the building three years ago, leaving it at the mercy of Memphis’ wide seasonal swings in temperature and humidity.

The entire area of the Fairgrounds falls under the jurisdiction of the City’s Division of Parks and Neighborhoods, operated by a management company, Global Spectrum . . . (read more)