A guest post by Marvin Stockwell
The Mid-South Coliseum, a mid-century modern, 11,200-seat venue built in 1964 and shuttered in 2007, is threatened with possible demolition. A City of Memphis plan proposes razing the building that once held concerts by the likes of Elvis, the Beatles, Frank Sinatra and James Brown, as well as Memphis State basketball games and wrestling matches, such as the famed match between Jerry “the King” Lawler and comic actor Andy Kaufman. Besides the building’s musical provenance, the Coliseum was built as Memphis’ first racially integrated building.
Through the actions of the Coliseum Coalition, a group formed in February of 2015, public opinion on the viability of the building has shifted from skepticism to optimism that the venue might be reopened. On May 23, 2015, the Coliseum Coalition hosted Roundhouse Revival, a daylong “previtalizing” event outside the Coliseum. The event featured basketball, wrestling and all sorts of music… the core activities that shaped the building’s legacy and, to a degree, define Memphis’ wider cultural legacy. The festival drew more than 4,500 people and helped the Coliseum Coalition establish legitimacy and find a wider support for the cause of saving the building.
Public opinion continued to move in the direction of preserving the facility in early June, when charrettes conducted by the National Charrette Institute showed that 85% of those polled favored reopening the building with only 15% favoring demolition. The data captured in the charrettes was given to the national office of the Urban Land Institute (ULI), which conducted its own interviews and issued a recommendation in June that also favored reopening the Mid-South Coliseum and featuring it as an historic anchor inside the surrounding Mid-South Fairgrounds.
The task remaining for the Coliseum Coalition and others who love the building is to hold the City of Memphis accountable, and see to it that the city makes an earnest attempt at following the ULI’s recommendation.