Once upon a time, fairs served as a signal that Fall was upon us. While some of the largest and most notable fairs remain, such as Minnesota and Wisconsin, many fairs have faded away with time and shifting consumer interests, leaving vast amounts of land in cities throughout the country.
These areas are seeing new life as communities are scrambling to find available land for projects that enhance the quality of life for residents and generate new revenue sources. This presents a compelling opportunity for developers because numerous fairground properties have highway accessibility, plenty of parking, and ample open space.
Many former fairgrounds are being revitalized into mixed-use developments, transforming from forgettable properties to dynamic housing, entertainment complexes, sports venues, waterparks, restaurants, and lodging options. And some, like the Metro-Detroit’s Michigan State Fairgrounds site, are creating jobs for surrounding communities.
After sitting vacant since 2009, a 3.8 million square foot Amazon fulfillment center was recently opened. Amazon promises to employ over 1,200 people at the new facility, with Detroit residents making up 60 percent of that group. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this supports the positive employment momentum for a city that recently announced a 4.2 percent unemployment rate, the lowest in 33 years.
And that’s not the only major employer coming to this space. Target has plans to build a sorting center that will produce more employment opportunities and is slated to open in 2024. Additionally, the Detroit Department of Transportation is developing a 60,000-square-foot transit center.
During a ribbon-cutting event for the new facility, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan commented that the complex will generate nearly 2,000 jobs. “Attracting large employment centers like these are a major part of our strategy to lift more Detroit families out of poverty and rebuild our city’s middle class,” Dugan told the Detroit Free Press.
Image courtesy of Maia C via Flickr
When the Mid-South Fair rolled out of Memphis for the final time in 2008, it left a gaping hole in the city’s Midtown area. Without the fair, city leaders and developers began to cast a vision for the underutilized area. While that vision has evolved over the years, a baseball complex, public recreational space, and a retail area have been proposed, and various aspects of these plans served as sticking points for elected officials and residents. Disputes over funding and the demolition of the Mid-South Coliseum had slowed the project’s momentum.
This changed in 2021 when the Tennessee State Funding Board approved a Tourism Development Zone Bond to fund the development of what is now known as Liberty Park.
Liberty Park is a multi-phased development that will include 200 apartment units, 12,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space, and a 200-room, full-service hotel. The development is anchored by the Memphis Sports and Events Center (SMEC), a 227,000-square-foot sports and events facility with 16 basketball courts. The $57 million venue opened in December of 2022 and, according to a report by the Memphis Business Journal, has already generated $40 million of economic impact.
The tentative groundbreaking for the project’s hotel and multifamily housing is set for late 2024. Hotel construction is slated to begin in the third quarter of 2024 and is to be complete in the first quarter of 2026, while the mixed-use commercial portion could be underway in the fourth quarter of 2024 and finish in the final quarter of 2026. There are also plans to build a soccer stadium on the site of the Mid-South Coliseum.
Image courtesy of Holly Deckert via Unsplash
We stayed in Tennessee for our last fairgrounds rebirth. Despite being the longtime home of state fairs and a wide variety of events, the 117-acre property stood underutilized. This changed in 2011 when the Metropolitan Council (representing Nashville and Davidson County) developed a master plan outlining the property’s future use. The plan calls for various assets to drive economic development and a higher quality of life for residents, specifically those living in the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood where the fairgrounds are located.
The development includes 46 acres of green space and walking paths and is anchored by the GEODIS Park, which, at 30,105 seats, is the largest soccer-specific stadium in the United States. GEODIS Park is already a key economic driver with plans for 445 Park Commons, a $123 million mixed-use development to be located adjacent to the venue in the works. A portion of the development will be considered as affordable housing.
While new developments abound for this property, Fairgrounds Nashville will stay true to its heritage with updated expo buildings and plans in the work for an expanded raceway. The latter is being done to attract a NASCAR series event.