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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The first construction work for the major new Liberty Park development planned on the site of the old Mid-South Fairgrounds was set to begin Tuesday.

On Monday, the Tennessee State Funding Board approved issuing the Tourism Development Zone bonds for the City of Memphis that will fund development of the park. The city said it has already notified Turner Construction to begin.

The city says Liberty Park will transform the site near the Liberty Bowl and Tiger lane with the construction of the Memphis Sports and Events Center, a 227,000-square-foot center for sports and events.

The Memphis Sports and Events Center will be able to host multiple tournaments simultaneously and will include permanent hardwood courts for basketball and volleyball, a 75,000-square-foot events pavilion for host sporting events, trade shows and graduations and a café with indoor and outdoor seating and space for community tenants. Construction is expected to be complete in October 2022, the city said.

Along Central Avenue, work will begin for an 18-acre mixed-use private development, which will house public plazas, hotels, retail and dining space, and residential apartments. Austin-based High 5 Entertainment will develop a 40,000-square-foot indoor arcade—complete with a bowling alley, bars and restaurant—and a 25,000-square-foot outdoor miniature golf course.

The development also included new playgrounds and pavilions, renovations to the Pipkin Building, outdoor playing fields at the MSEC, and a new track and football field at Tobey Park.

The total budget for the project exceeds $200 million. Of that, the city’s budget is $126 million; $70.6 million will come from the TDZ Bonds, the city said.

“Liberty Park represents an intersection of so many elements—youth, community, sports, entertainment, public green spaces, tourism—that together make Memphis the place to be. We have a winning team to take us into the second half of this project,” Mayor Jim Strickland said in a statement.

Memphis is a well-known tourist draw for its history and current attractions, but city officials say youth sports was critical during the COVID pandemic. While most aspects of travel stalled or halted altogether, youth sports continued bringing in much-needed support.

“It’s a game-changer for our destination. It’s going to allow Memphis tourism and the Memphis sports council to recruit youth sports events from around the country, adult organized sports leagues as well,” said Kevin Kern, Vice President of Memphis Tourism.

The center will be built around the Liberty Bowl, which is a foundational piece in the Mid-South for years. The Liberty Bowl will elevate youth sports and events, which could in turn elevate a tourism industry that struggled during the pandemic.

“This is going to allow us to capture a large piece of that youth sports pie. And that means more tax revenue locally for Memphis,” Kern said.

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