Ryan Poe, USA TODAY NETWORK – TennesseePublished 10:58 a.m. CT Dec. 29, 2017 | Updated 11:09 a.m. CT Dec. 29, 2017
Memphis will next year launch a long-anticipated, $175 million expansion and renovation of the Cook Convention Center in Downtown, Mayor Jim Strickland said Friday.
The city will choose a construction team in upcoming months, and hopes to complete construction in 2019, Strickland said in his weekly email to constituents. The city has a minority participation goal of 30 percent but an “aspirational goal” of 50 percent.
The renovation — estimated at $100 million as recently as November — will give the 1974 convention center hotel-quality finishes in line with the newer Cannon Center for the Performing Arts, as well as technology upgrades and a new “skin” on the building.
“This is more than simply a renovation — it’s an expansion and transformation of the interior and exterior in exciting new ways that take advantage of its location overlooking the Mississippi River,” Strickland said in the email. “For instance, a new glass concourse will take over the west side of the building, allowing for striking views of the river, the Bass Pro Pyramid and skyline.
“The city plans to pay for the project with hotel/motel taxes and state sales taxes captured by the Downtown Tourism Development Zone (TDZ). In 2015, the City Council approved raising hotel/motel taxes to 3.5 percent, an increase of 1.8 percentage points, to fund what at the time was expected to be a $50-60 million renovation.
“We’ll do this at no cost to the local taxpayer,” Strickland wrote. “We’re paying for this in two ways, via those who visit our city: through hotel/motel taxes and money from the Downtown Tourism Development Zone. This will not take away any money we use for core services like police and fire.”
The Cook improvements are a part of the city’s Bicentennial Gateway Project to improve the Interstate 40 entryway to Downtown, anchored by the $1 billion expansion of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The Gateway Project also includes the renovation of Mud Island River Park into an aquarium with a footbridge over Wolf River Harbor to what could be the new home of the Brooks Museum of Art next to a renovated Cossitt Library, as well as improvements along the riverfront and in the Pinch and Uptown districts.
The convention center and Cannon Center will both remain open and continue to host events throughout the construction project, Strickland said.
The convention center is already qualified for TDZ funds. The city is still planning to seek state approval to also tap the funds for the Mud Island and riverfront projects.