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UofM, City of Memphis panel explains Liberty Stadium renovation project

Published: May. 12, 2022 at 6:07 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - At the University of Memphis’s Billy J. Murphy Athletic Complex, UofM Athletics Director Laird Veatch, UofM President Dr. Bill Hardgrave and City of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland formed a panel to discuss the announced renovation project of Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium, known to many as the Liberty Bowl.

“This will be an investment in the university and the city of Memphis for generations to come,” Veatch said during his opening remarks.

This renovation will, in-part, make UofM a major competitor when it comes to future NCAA conference realignments.

UofM was not chosen to be a part of the Big12 expansion in 2021, losing out to other AAC competitors like the University of Houston (UH) and the University of Central Florida (UCF).

“(The renovation) puts us in a position where we’re truly competitive,” Veatch said. “Part of that is just by being around and seeing of the other facilities. We’ve... had the opportunity to see all the Big12 stadiums and other stadiums across the country, and this is the kind of stadium that looks like it belongs in that club.”

Veatch explained that initially the university looked at the possibility of having an on-campus stadium, understanding the appeal it brings to a campus’s culture.

It was determined during an independent study that UofM would be able to secure $200 million in funding for a new stadium, and university leaders looked to Colorado State University’s Canvas Stadium: built in 2017, a capacity of 41,000, and a price tag of $238 million.

The thought was to go for something similar to that with a capacity of roughly 38,000-44,000, but the study showed their funding capabilities wouldn’t touch the total cost of the project.

With the rise in construction cost, in this day and age it would take $400 million to construct the type of on-campus stadium at UofM, according to Veatch, and that cost didn’t account for additional land acquisition and surrounding infrastructure like parking.

Revamping Liberty Stadium was the only logical solution, with a price tag of roughly $150-$200 million.

The capacity will be in the “low 50,000s,” according to Veatch, and renderings, made by the architecture firm Populous, show premier seating options, additional family boxes, and even what has been termed as “party decks” for students.

For events outside of football, the new stadium, as well as the nearby Liberty Park development with it’s soon-to-be-built district of restaurants, hotels, and apartment, will provide an appealing location for stadium concert tours.

“If you’re my age, you remember when the bands would come and they would set up on the field,” Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said. “That can’t happen now, so part of this renovation is opening up the north side of the stadium so we can stage a concert there.”

“We will get in a detailed design of it in a construction bid process,” Veatch said. “This is a master plan vision, and we need to flush all of that kind of detail out with professionals that will help guide us.”

The process of finding a construction company, hammering down an exact design and price tag, and timing out a start and finish date will take 12-18 months, according to Veatch.

As of now, the plan is to begin construction after the 2023 college football season and have the renovation finished by the start of the 2025 season.

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