MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The family of Fred Smith, founder and executive chairman of FedEx, has committed to donating $50 million toward renovations at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium.
The Midtown stadium is home to the University of Memphis Tigers football team. The donation would be the largest in school history.
In addition, the Memphis City Council is considering a resolution to allocate $120 million in state funding that would go toward renovations to the stadium, if the deal is approved by city council.
Ownership of the stadium would also transfer from the city to the University of Memphis on December 30 as part of the resolution.
“I’m happy to say we have reached another milestone today. And it is a game changer,” Mayor Jim Strickland said Tuesday during his proposal to City Council.
Strickland on Tuesday asked Memphis City Council to allocate $120 million in state funds to the Liberty Stadium project. The university would be responsible for raising the other $100 million, including Smith’s $50 million “challenge grant.”
A City Council committee voted Tuesday morning to send the plan to the full council with a positive recommendation. Martavious Jones was the only “no” vote.
The Tennessee General Assembly approved $350 million in state funding in May to be used for renovations to athletic facilities in Memphis. However, the need was divided between Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium and FedExForum, the downtown home of the Grizzlies (a proposed soccer stadium plan at Liberty Park has been dropped).
The Liberty Stadium project alone will cost an estimated $220 million, Strickland said. But the gift from Smith helps create what Strickland called a win-win situation.
Meanwhile, the transfer of ownership from the city to the university would allow the U of M to fundraise for the stadium, while saving the city future maintenance costs on the stadium, Strickland said.
“I’ve always wanted the university to own the stadium,” Strickland said. “The city has so many other needs.”
The remaining $230 million in state grant funds would be allocated to renovations at FedExForum.
“We are still working with the Grizzlies to finalize a deal to keep them in Memphis for an additional 25 years,” Strickland said.
The University of Memphis says it would continue to work with other stadium tenants including the AutoZone Liberty Bowl game, the Southern Heritage Classic and the USFL’s Memphis Showboats.
Tiger Lane, which is used not only for tailgating but for community events, would remain under city ownership. The city would have access to the stadium for other events 50 times a year, Strickland told council.
The 65th Autozone Liberty Bowl will be played Dec. 29 at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium.