Memphis’ new six acres under a roof: A sports tourism game changer

Published: Dec. 8, 2022 at 5:01 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - You’re invited to celebrate the grand opening of the new Memphis Sports and Event Center this Saturday, December 10 from 12 noon until 3 p.m. at Liberty Park.

“We believe this is a game changer to bring not only local sports programming but also regional and national competitions,” said Mary Claire Borys, the City of Memphis administrator who has guided progress of the massive project for years.

It’s six acres under roof, a 227,000 square foot indoor sports facility that primarily targeted toward basketball and volleyball.

“We have events every single weekend from January 7-8 through July 2023,” said Antonio Perez, the General Manager of the Memphis Sports and Event Center, who’s been busy booking tournaments for months now.

The new $60 million dollar building is the crown jewel of Perez’s employer, Eastern Sports Management, a company that oversees similar facilities in Virginia Beach, Va, Tulsa, Okla., and Fredericksburg, Va., among others.

Inside the Memphis Sports and Events Center
Inside the Memphis Sports and Events Center(Action News 5)

City leaders began dreaming of a facility like this one in 2005. Mayor Jim Strickland and his team convinced the state of Tennessee to invest $10 million dollars upfront and then designate Liberty Park, formerly known as the Memphis Fairgrounds, as a Tourist Development Zone (TDZ).

“That has allowed us to issue construction bonds which will be repaid by the sales taxes paid by the people who come to visit, shop and eat in the area around Liberty Park,” said Borys.

The city says it fully expects sales taxes generated inside the Liberty Park TDZ for the next thirty years to ultimately pay for the new center and all the improvements to come on the former Fairgrounds property.

Two hotels are slated for development inside Liberty Park as well as bars, restaurants, an apartment complex, and other family-oriented amenities all designed to complement the new Memphis Sports and Event Center.

“We have an opportunity to garner some really big regional and national events that Memphis never was a candidate to host before,” Perez said.

On the south side of the massive complex this week, a team from Sports Floors, Inc. buffed the eight contiguous basketball floors the workers had installed, painted, and planned to cover with polyurethane.

“It’s their largest installation ever in terms of contiguous square footage,” Borys said of the woman owned Memphis based floor company. “So it’s a really big deal and this project, like most City of Memphis projects, we’re very aggressive in our targeted goals for women owned businesses and minority owned businesses and I’m happy to say we hit our goals,” Borys said with a smile.

The Memphis team that designed the Sports and Event Center traveled to similar centers like the Birmingham CrossPlex, the Boo Williams Sportsplex and the Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex to think through each detail of what they wanted in the Bluff City.

“This building is by far larger and nicer than anything anywhere nearby and we believe it’s going to be hugely popular with the families,” Borys said.

Inside the Memphis Sports and Events Center
Inside the Memphis Sports and Events Center(Action News 5)

One design detail in the new center focuses on recruiting. Scouts and coaches who want to recruit rising stars in basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, or the many other competitions that’ll be held under the massive roof will be able to observe their prospects’ performances from a mezzanine, VIP skybox or courtside bleachers.

“It’s very important to keep the recruiters separate from the children and their families and coaches. This facility was deigned to do that, and no other facility can say that,” Borys said.

The north side of the Memphis Sports and Event Center features 75,000 square feet of event floor space without a column in sight. Bleachers that can hold 2,500 spectators stand above the expansive floor.

“We can do graduation ceremonies here, trade shows, pretty much anything that you can do indoors that does not require water or ice we can do in this building,” Borys said.

Alternatively, the “event side” of the complex can be converted to eight more basketball courts or sixteen additional volleyball courts, depending on the needs of those leasing the facility.

“So on one half of the building, you might have a basketball tournament opposite a cheer competition, or you might have a volleyball tournament opposite a wrestling meet,” Perez said.

The bearded Perez started his career with the Orlando Magic and then the Memphis Grizzlies running all kinds of events, including basketball clinics. When the Memphis Sports and Event Center got on his radar, he kept close track of the project that captured his imagination.

“With this type of building, everybody is going to win from an economic standpoint,” Perez said. “So whether you’re a hotel, a local business in the way of a restaurant, everybody wins from the traffic this building is going to generate.”

The new general manager leads a full-time staff of twelve and a part time staff that grows significantly depending on the events to be hosted. The team anticipates Memphians --- children and adults --- will use the facility after school and on weeknights with league and club sports and that visitors to Memphis will dominate the facility on weekends.

Perez’s team oversees a full-service café that features standard fare of sports venues like chicken fingers but accommodates the health conscious with salads, smoothies, and a whole lot more.

“Beyond our food and beverage operation,” Perez told this reporter, “We’ll soon open amenities such as a kids entertainment zone, sports performance area, an E-sports videogame studio, so all these things that kind of make this facility of to a different level, “Perez said.

“Youth and amateur sports are a $15 billion dollar a year industry,” Borys said. “It is huge and is one part of the tourism industry that is considered recession proof. Most parents view the spending they do on sports and other extracurricular activities as a necessity.”

So you’re invited to see the Memphis Sports and Event Center for yourself on Saturday. Countless thousands of trophies, medals and diplomas will be awarded to our children and grandchildren and visitors from far and wide inside in this space for generations to come. It has the feel of a winner. Come see for yourself noon to 3 o’clock on Saturday.

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