Three appeals court judges meeting in Memphis heard both sides of the debate over a publicly funded $250 million NBA arena for the Memphis Grizzlies Monday.
Plaintiff Duncan Ragsdale made his now familiar case that there must be a referendum before the city and county can pledge their credit for the project. Chancellor Walter Evans upheld that position in July, and the city and county appealed.
The hearing, which lasted about an hour, centered on the question of public or private purpose.
"Whatever purpose that exists is outweighed by private purpose," said Ragsdale. Almost all of the revenue sources from the proposed arena "have been bargained away to the Grizzlies," he said.
Attorney Leo Bearman said the city and county properly complied with provisions of the Sports Authority Act in issuing bonds for the arena.
He argued for a broad concept of public purpose, "not just what goes on at the footprint of the building."
The judges gave no indication of when they might rule. Some of the judges' sharpest questioning seemed to favor the city and county. Justice Holly Lillard said building an arena, or even three of them, was clearly a valid public purpose if elected officials so decided.
"How is it my job to be a super-legislator?" she asked Ragsdale.
Justice Frank Crawford said the key question was whether there was compliance with the Sports Authority Act. If there was, he said, "then this thing is legal."
The arena is expected to take two or three years to build. In the meantime the Grizzlies will play in The Pyramid.