The Idea: 1979
In the Spring of 1979, several Memphis business leaders began evaluating the feasibility of establishing an "Agricenter" in Memphis. At that time, an "Agricenter" had never been built in the United States.
Ned Cook of Cook Industries, Hamilton "Ham" Smythe, III of Yellow Cab Company, B. Lee Mallory of Memphis Compress and Storage, John Barringer of Barringer Cotton Company, Robert Booth of Commercial & Industrial Bank, and a number of others, began serious planning of what Agricenter could be and what economic importance such a center would have for the Mid-South. A state charter incorporating Agricenter International as a non-profit was filed May 11, 1979.
Sufficient planning progress was made in the following six months prompting the formation of a Board of Directors for Agricenter International. This group of business leaders, chaired by Ned Cook, continued the planning process utilizing private funding and vast amounts of volunteer effort. Marketing studies indicated more than a half million agricultural producers would visit Agricenter during its first year of operation. The main offices were located in a temporary trailer positioned next to the Big Red Barn.
The Legislation & Funding: 1982
Shelby County Mayor William N. Morris, Jr. supported the project and appointed the five member Shelby County Agricenter Commission, chaired by Ham Smythe (State Senate Bill 1340 created a charter for forming Agricenter Commission on June 5, 1981).
As a result of the 1982 Memphis Jobs Conference, with the support of Governor Lamar Alexander and the State Legislature, $4.5 million was made available to the Agricenter Commission by the State of Tennessee. The funds were dedicated to building a facility to house displays of agriculture equipment and offices of agribusinesses. The three other projects that came out of this conference were Beale Street, Orpheum, and the Cook Convention Center. At the request of the Agricenter Commission, Shelby County provided strong support of the project as well, making available an additional $2 million in construction funds and the dedication of 1,000 acres of productive farmland which was part of the 4,500-acre Shelby Farms property (approved on November 18, 1982).
A conservation easement was placed on the property in 2007.
The first President of the non-profit was B. Lee Mallory (1979-1983), followed by Richard 'Dick' E. Sneddon (1983-1986), John 'Johnny' W. Barringer (1986-1987), William 'Bill' Walker, III (1987-1995), James 'Jim' Boyd Waddlington (1995-2001), William 'Bill' Mayfield (interim 2001), and John Charles Wilson (2001-2016). The current President is John R. Butler.