Coliseum Conundrum— Coalition Officers Resign

coliseumAugust 10, 2016 – As
far as this writer knows, it has not yet been reported that the president of the Coliseum Coalition in Memphis and the organization’s secretary both resigned in early August, according to a source in a position to know. The reason for their resignations is unclear but it raises a question whether their resignations are related to a proposal to turn the Mid-South Coliseum into a for-profit, private corporation, brewery. The resignations of president Mike McCarthy and secretary Marilyn Albert at about the same time as the Wiseacre proposal was being shopped around to the grassroots organizations intent on saving the coliseum is a very suspicious coincidence, at best.

The Coliseum Coalition’s web page has expired and as best we can tell its Facebook page as of earlier today did not mention a change in the organization’s leadership.

Wiseacre Brewery has proposed moving its operation into the unused Mid-South Coliseum, using the 60 foot tall ceiling to accommodate its large stainless steel tanks in the center of the one-time basketball arena and concert venue, removing the seats, and leasing the “pie shaped” seating sections for various uses, i.e. restaurants, museums, all with a glass wall allowing guests to look out at the steel tanks.

Wiseacre’s Frank Smith outlined the proposal before a City Council committee Tuesday saying that he was not asking the city for money but if this proposal is going forward he wants confidence there will be no change of mind on part of the city. He says his business is willing to put $12-million into a new facility, whether it be at the coliseum or elsewhere because the brewery is outgrowing its current space on Broad Avenue. Smith says if the decision is made and renovation begins to put the brewery into the coliseum, there will never be another concert or another graduation ceremony in the coliseum. The seats will be removed and significant changes made to the floor plan.

It is reported that most of the Memphis City Council members expressed support for the plan. It is clear that the public is divided in its opinion of the proposal.

The Mid-South Coliseum has been the subject of several groups attempting to save it after the city proposed demolishing it and creating a mixture of commercial, for-profit businesses along with other uses for the old Fairgournds property. It has just been within the past year, perhaps the last six months, that those wishing to save the coliseum and hoping it can be returned to a public use, especially as a venue for concerts and graduations, have been able to rest easy. The city’s plan for the Fairgrounds which included demolition of the coliseum, developed under former Community Development Director Robert Lipscomb, faltered under strong community opposition. When Lipscomb was left the job in 2015 under allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor and thereafter a new mayor came into office in Memphis in January, 2016, those plans appeared to die. Hope among the public proponents of reviving the coliseum as an entertainment venue were buoyed.

The Wiseacre proposal seems reasonable as a last chance alternative to save the external structure of the Mid-South Coliseum. The question raised, however, is whether or not the situation is at the last chance stage. Given that the apparent threat of imminent demolition of the iconic structure has just dissipated within the past year, it could well be argued that the city is not at the last chance stage for making the coliseum a an entertainment venue once again. The problem with the Wiseacre proposal, then, becomes timing. Smith says that it must make a decision and begin construction on a new facility in 2017. That does not give much time for other prospects to develop.

The Mid-South Coliseum was built to be a facility for pubic use. It is owned by the residents of Memphis. There obviously is a strong will among people that it return to that use. Others think that turning it over to a private, for-profit business such as Wiseacre saves the external structure and brings the city revenue. The Mid-South Coliseum is, indeed, an iconic image to behold but it much more than that. Those seeking to restore the building to some degree of its past say it holds historic value in its pubic entertainment venue uses, not merely the “round house” external structure.

Has the possibility of restoring the Mid-South Coliseum to something of its past glory past or are those jumping on the Wiseacre bandwagon rushing to judgment?