University of Memphis chooses major renovation for Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium

The University of Memphis and the City of Memphis have announced plans to pursue a $150m (£122.7m/€144m) to $200m renovation of Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium after deciding not to develop a new home for Memphis Tiger Football.

Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium opened in 1965 and in recent months the University has studied options for both a renovation, and construction of a new football stadium, with stadium architecture design firm Populous.

After analysing both possibilities with University and government leaders, the decision has been made to focus on a transformation of Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium with a new facility having been expected to cost at least $400m.

Priority elements of the wide-ranging project include transformation of the stadium’s west side, providing several innovative premium seating options; while a hospitality experience will be created within the halo space surrounding the stadium.

Other new seating options will be installed, such as family boxes on the north end and party deck patios for students on the south end; while a potential repurpose and retrofit of the east side suite tower will be looked at.

The University said its goal will be to start construction following the 2023 college football season and complete the renovation in time for the 2025 season. To achieve these goals, it will need to complete the design and bid process, as well as secure a funding plan, over approximately the next 18 months.

“We started this process with a specific set of transformational goals in mind, and this renovation hits all of them,” said University of Memphis vice-president and director of intercollegiate athletics, Laird Veatch.

“It will demonstrate our commitment to sustainable competitive and recruiting success, provide a tremendous, upgraded fan experience and secure positive long-term economic impacts for our University and City, all while taking advantage of the current stadium infrastructure and the investments already underway at Liberty Park.

“Perhaps most importantly, it will optimise our position in the rapidly evolving landscape of intercollegiate athletics in a more manageable and efficient timeframe. This is the most strategically achievable option for us to pursue and make a game-changing impact at a critical time for our program.”

Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium has a current capacity of 58,325. The University said final capacity will be determined following the complete design process, adding that current estimates project this figure will remain above 50,000.

“This transformation will also further our partnership with the City and take advantage of the existing stadium infrastructure that includes great sightlines, on-site parking and an incredible tailgating scene on Tiger Lane,” Veatch explained.

“In addition to multiple improvements made to the stadium in recent years, we are also excited to complement the investments already underway in Liberty Park.”

Currently approximately halfway through construction, the site of the old Mid-South Fairgrounds surrounding Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium is being reimagined as Liberty Park. Essentially creating a stadium district, Liberty Park will consist of a youth sports facility, named the Memphis Sports and Events Center, and also include entertainment venues, dining, retail, office space, two hotels and 150 apartments.

“Now is a time of historic public and private reinvestment in our city,” said City of Memphis Mayor, Jim Strickland. “Whether through private developments or city-wide public projects, billions of dollars are helping to bring new life and new energy to Memphis.

“This significant investment in the stadium will be a tremendous compliment to the 227,000 square-foot youth sports complex just across the street on Early Maxwell, as well as the overall transformative Liberty Park development.”

The University said the final funding plan will be determined in partnership with the City of Memphis. The project will be funded by a combination of public and private support, with the funding from the University side coming mainly from philanthropic support and premium seating revenues.

Veatch added: “With our vision now public, our attention will turn to working with the City to establish a funding plan consisting of public and private support, completing the full design process and securing lead gift commitments.

“This will be an investment in the University and City of Memphis for generations to come. To accomplish a project of this magnitude, we will need everyone who cares deeply about the University and City to come together and help us elevate. Together, we will take this project from vision to reality.”

Images: University of Memphis