Thursday, May 24, 2007

Turley wants fairgrounds project

Developer seeks legislative OK to use sales tax money

Commercial Appeal [link]
By Richard Locker
May 24, 2007

NASHVILLE -- A partnership led by Memphis developer Henry Turley wants to redevelop the Mid-South Fairgrounds area and is trying to win legislative approval to use sales tax money generated by new "major retail" centers there to help finance the project.

The state legislation would designate the fairgrounds area as a state "Tourist Development Zone." That would allow state sales tax revenue collected from new retail development that is built there to be plowed into public projects on the site -- including renovating Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium or building a new football stadium, Turley said.
The overall project would be a mix of public and private money -- at least $50 million in private financing for the privately owned businesses that would locate there.

The legislation that he has been quietly lobbying for for about a month requires at least $75 million in public investment in the zone, which would include whatever is done on the stadium, the Mid-South Coliseum and infrastructure at the site. Diversion of the sales tax money from the state's coffers to the project would help repay bonds sold to finance the public improvements.

In addition, Turley said he expects at least $25 million in federal tax credits -- jobs tax credits for new jobs created there, tax credits for historic preservation on the site, and market tax credits for redevelopment of a blighted area.

The redevelopment would leave the fairgrounds area bordered by Central on the north, East Parkway on the west, Southern on the South and Hollywood on the East as a mix of green space, athletic fields, "major retail" like a Target store, mixed use developments, "festival" space and other uses, Turley said.

It would incorporate into the project the existing Fairview School and the Children's Museum of Memphis, whatever the city and county decide to do with the Liberty Bowl and Mid-South Coliseum, and the Salvation Army's plans to build a multi-use Kroc Center on the site near East Parkway.

The city already has a fairground redevelopment study under way. Even if the state tax legislation is approved, Turley and his partners likely would have to bid or respond to a governmental request for proposals to become "master developers" of the project, then be selected by the city.

"We have no standing. If there is a master development process, we will go for it," Turley said.

He presented the plan here Wednesday to the Shelby County legislative delegation and asked its members to support the tax bill. The bill won Senate approval earlier this month and is awaiting action in the House budget subcommittee where it is encountering difficulty.

Turley said the other partners are Memphis businessman Robert Loeb, Shelby County Commissioner J.W. Gibson II, who has helped him lobby for the bill, and a New York real estate company.

Turley said he has discussed the project with both Mayor Willie Herenton and County Mayor A C Wharton and said "both are fully supportive" of his efforts to pass the tax bill before the state legislature adjourns for the year in early June.

Members of the delegation were generally supportive. Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis, whose district includes the fairgrounds, said the project could be a major revitalization for the entire area between the University of Memphis and Cooper-Young, including the Beltline neighborhood just east of the site.

However, Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, who also represents the area, said it was "unacceptable" for the developers to seek the legislation without consulting with him and city officials first.

Turley told The Commercial Appeal in an interview after the delegation meeting that even if his group does not get the project, "what I want to do is make the tool of a Tourist Development Zone available to Memphis. This opportunity presented itself so suddenly that we had to seize the opportunity."

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