Mayor Jim Strickland supports whatever U of M decides on Liberty Bowl, on-campus stadium
Everything is on the table as it pertains to the future of Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland told The Commercial Appeal Monday.
And whatever the University of Memphis decides, the school has Strickland’s full support.
“If they want to continue to greatly improve the current stadium, I’m for it,” he said. “If they want us to give them the current stadium, I’m for it. If they want to build an on-campus stadium, I’m for it.”
The University of Memphis, which is the primary tenant of the Liberty Bowl, announced in July its plans for the 56-year-old facility to undergo “major renovations.” Following last week’s news that the stadium’s naming rights had been sold to Simmons Bank, Strickland said Monday the city has commissioned a proposal from a leading architectural firm to determine what upgrades are possible.
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The subject of an on-campus stadium has become part of the conversation again in recent months amid the latest round of conference realignment. Memphis was not one of the three American Athletic Conference schools invited to join the Big 12 last month. The absence of an on-campus stadium could have been one of the factors.
The Big 12 has indicated it is open to adding more schools, particularly once Texas and Oklahoma officially depart for the SEC. Memphis and Boise State are reportedly considered the favorites to be included in the next round of Big 12 expansion.
Strickland said he has long been an advocate for an on-campus stadium at his alma mater.
“(But), still to date, no one from the university has said anything to me about building an on-campus stadium,” he said. “Improvements to the current stadium have been the only discussions between city government and the University of Memphis. We are hiring an architect who’s an expert in stadium renovations to look at the stadium and make suggestions on what could be improved.”
Strickland said he is not authorized to disclose which architectural firm has been commissioned. He also maintained his position that whatever work is done to the Liberty Bowl will need to be paid for by the University of Memphis.
“When I say the university, I put the state of Tennessee, the university’s donors and then a potential financing arrangement with season ticket holders like the University of Cincinnati did when it renovated Nippert Stadium ($86 million in 2015),” Strickland said. “(But) if you’re talking about renovating the Liberty Bowl, it’s my position the university should pay for most of it and the city should contribute.
“I’m a huge University of Memphis supporter. We’ve tried to be a really good partner to the university. I think when you look at the capital investments the city has made in the last 10 years, we’ve invested over $27 million into that stadium, which is really more investments in football facilities than even the university has made. We are a very good partner. But we also know this is really the university’s decision. Whatever they decide, I will wholeheartedly support it.”
Reach sports writer Jason Munz at [email protected] or on Twitter @munzly.