FedEx founder Fred Smith donates $50 million for Memphis stadium renovation project

The University of Memphis announced Tuesday it has received a $50 million gift courtesy of FedEx founder Fred Smith’s family foundation intended to facilitate the city’s renovations of both Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium and FedExForum. The donation is the largest in school history and earmarked for the stadium project, the school announced.

In addition, a resolution was introduced Tuesday in City Council to allocate and appropriate $120 million in state funding for Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium. Also proposed was a transfer ownership of the stadium to the University of Memphis Auxiliary Services Foundation. If approved, the funding and ownership transfer will take effect Dec. 30.

Memphis athletics announced Tuesday it will also launch a $50 million capital campaign to match the Smith Family’s commitment.

“The upgrade and modernization of this community’s two most important sports venues, FedExForum and the Liberty Bowl, is of paramount importance to the future of FedEx’s headquarters city,” Richard W. Smith said in a press release, on behalf of the Smith Family. “In the same vein, increasing the attractiveness of Memphis as an entertainment destination around FedExForum and the Liberty Bowl both is essential for economic growth and increased employment. Tourism is our second-largest industry after logistics, and this will help to drive additional activity and development here in our home city. We strongly believe Memphis’ future is tied to their success.”

There was no mention in Tuesday’s announcements of a finalized agreement for FedExForum renovations or a new long-term lease for the Grizzlies to remain in Memphis. The Grizzlies’ current lease at FedExForum ends in 2029.

The Grizzlies refused to comment to The Commercial Appeal after providing a statement to another local news outlet.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland (whose term is set to end Dec. 31) called the news “a game-changer” during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. It should ease the civic debate that had erupted in recent months over how $350 million in state money should be allocated for the two projects.

“I’m happy to say we’ve reached another milestone today,” Strickland said. “It allows us to have a win-win for both facilities. Now, instead of $220 million coming from the city, we only need $120 million from the city and the university will raise the other $100 million. The Grizzlies support this allocation.”

Mayor-elect Paul Young said Tuesday he had been involved in the discussions around the stadium deal and fully supported it.

“We’ve thought long and hard about how to get these projects moving forward, and we are grateful to have someone that is willing to step up in our community and contribute $100 million toward the project,” said Young. “The stadium, while a great building, it is a financial liability for the city. And so if we can turn that liability into an asset for our community, maintain it as an asset for our community and get it renovated – and achieve the goals of being able to elevate the status of the program at the University of Memphis – it’s a win-win for our community.”

The University of Memphis has made it abundantly clear over the past year-plus that it believes its hopes of better positioning itself for conference realignment prospects are tied to renovating Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium.

“Over the past couple of years, there’s been a lot of talk about conference realignment and positioning the university to be the best we can be, especially in football,” said university president Bill Hardgrave during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “And in my conversations with presidents of these other conferences and commissioners, one of the things that came through time and time again was that our stadium was not where it needed to be. And that was why working with the city, it was incredibly important to look for ways to get the funds to update our stadium so that we look like we belong.”

Strickland also said Tuesday that a new stadium for Memphis 901 FC, which had been part of the initial plan, was no longer part of this proposal.

“Frankly the cost of the two priorities, FedExForum and Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium, exceeded the resources we have,” he said. “We didn’t have enough money for a soccer stadium. I still wish we did, but we don’t.”

MEMPHIS:Paul Young ‘committed to making sure we do both’ stadium renovation projects

“We are thrilled about the prospect of the Auxiliary Services Foundation owning the stadium and the potential opportunities that presents,” Memphis athletic director Laird Veatch said in a statement. “In that position, we would carry that same spirit of partnership forward with other stadium tenants such as the AutoZone Liberty Bowl game, the Southern Heritage Classic and the USFL’s Memphis Showboats.”

Pending approval of the resolution, the university will release additional details on stadium renovation plans at a later date.

This article was originally published at “commercialappeal.com

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