CA: Brewery idea intriguing, but talk to Coliseum owners first
In my younger, rock concert-going days, the idea of filling an arena with beer might have seemed brilliant.
And Frank Smith’s idea of turning the Mid-South Coliseum into a bigger Wiseacre Brewery indeed might be a brilliant one.
Take an old, empty arena once slated for the wrecking ball and remake it into a job-producing, revenue-enhancing, local craft beer-brewing landmark between the Liberty Bowl and Tiger Lane.
As Smith told intrigued City Council members Tuesday, it’s a “crazy” and “goofy” proposal.
So was turning The Pyramid into a sporting goods store and alligator pen.
So was transforming a hulking old Sears into an urban mecca for arts, education and health.
So was turning the old, fading Tennessee Brewery into a riverfront apartment building masterpiece.
But before the mayor and council turn over the keys to the Coliseum, they need to involve the people who own the building and the land around it.
That would be us — the residents and taxpayers of Memphis.
The Coliseum is a public building constructed and sustained with public funds for community events.
It sits in the midst of 168 acres of invaluable public land that has been a community gathering place for generations.
It’s surrounded by a half-dozen community-minded, public or nonprofit organizations, including a children’s museum, a public school and the KROC Center.
The public should be involved in this decision, and I don’t mean in two-minute cameos at City Council.
The best way to involve the public is to start by involving the two grass-roots public groups that have been working tirelessly to save the Coliseum.
The Coliseum Coalition and Friends of the Fairgrounds didn’t get organized just to save a nostalgic landmark from demolition for old times’ sake.
They worked to save it for a new, creative, collective purpose that serves the entire community.
“We believe that the Fairgrounds can and should meet community needs, especially those of the surrounding neighborhoods,” said John Klyce Minervini, a co-founder of FofF and one of 10 “core members” — five women, five men; five white, five black — of its visioning team.
Friends of the Fairgrounds was formed last year by the Coalition and about four dozen other organizations. That includes representatives of seven mostly lower-income neighborhoods by or near the old Fairgrounds, including the Beltline and Orange Mound.
FofF’s goal is to develop a comprehensive, community-based plan for the Fairgrounds, including the Coliseum, by year’s end.
“It’s reasonable and fair for the public to want a say in what happens to this treasured community asset,” said Marvin Stockwell, a co-founder of both organizations. “Frank has a great idea. Let’s hear more about it and talk more about it.”
FofF has scheduled five more monthly public meetings. The next is Aug. 27. The topic: Economic opportunity.
What a great opportunity for the mayor, council members and interested entrepreneurs to hear from some of the Coliseum’s more involved and concerned owners.
Maybe they’ll love Smith’s “crazy” proposal.
Maybe they’ll think it fits perfectly with their hopes for using that public building and land for community-building purposes.
Maybe their dreams for the old fairgrounds and the old Coliseum will mesh with Frank Smith’s dreams.
Smith has brought a creative, possibly brilliant idea to the table. Let’s not overlook all of the people who are already at the table.