After the state approved funding for four sports facilities projects, Memphis officials are shifting course and focusing on upgrades to the Liberty Bowl and FedExForum, eliminating the Memphis Redbirds (Triple-A; International League) and AutoZone Park renovations from the mix.
Also eliminated as part of the spending readjustments: a new soccer stadium for USL Championship’s Memphis 901. which also plays at AutoZone Park. Moving out of AutoZone Park would allow the city to move forward with baseball-specific renovations.
The state had allocated $350 million toward Memphis sporting facilities, with the original plan calling for a city match of $335 million to build one new facility and renovate three more. But along the way the city’s contribution was eliminated, with a final plan calling for a $220-million renovation of the Liberty Bowl (including $50 million from FedEx founder Fred Smith and $50 million in private donations) and the remaining $230 million going toward FedExForum upgrades for the Memphis Grizzlies (NBA).
The Redbirds had sought the money to address deferred maintenance as well as improvements to meet MiLB’s new facilities guidelines. The announcement from the city on the new funding plan eliminating AutoZone Park renovations met with a rather pointed message on social media from Redbirds CEO Craig Unger:
“Since this process started more than 18 months ago, we have actively collaborated with the City on ways to achieve full funding for all projects, which is why it is so unfortunate that the critical needs of AutoZone Park have been overlooked. “Once the jewel of downtown and the gold standard for minor league baseball stadiums, AutoZone Park is simply no longer considered a top facility in professional baseball. It is in desperate need of standard updates to basic infrastructure, relies on the building next door for critical systems, and is in danger of not meeting Major League Baseball’s compliance standards.”
A statement from team President, Craig Unger. pic.twitter.com/4DTfxgYK6C— Memphis Redbirds (@memphisredbirds) November 21, 2023
What comes next? Well, it would be surprising if there’s not more lobbying from the Redbirds; Memphis 901 owner Peter Freund, via Trinity Sports Holdings, also heads Diamond Baseball Holdings, which owns the Redbirds.
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