As a downtown resident for the past 20 years, I have witnessed firsthand the explosion in residential development and have applauded the increasing amenities that are available for residents, workers, and tourists.
Since the new arena is about to be completed, a decision must be made about The Pyramid's future. I have felt strongly that The Pyramid could have a longer life with a creative adaptive reuse. What most people who live downtown mention is the need for shopping. I think The Pyramid would be a great location for an upscale discount shopping mall akin to Chattanooga's Warehouse Row, Potomac Mills in northern Virginia, Anne Arundel Mills in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, or Boaz, Alabama, which brings people in by the busloads to shop discount.
This use would attract tourists as well as provide shopping for residents and downtown workers. With the great parking around The Pyramid (which should be free) and the proximity to the trolley, a shopping mall would retire that nearly $35 million in debt service in short order.
Another great suggestion has been a hotel with connections to the Convention Center. We need more hotel rooms downtown. I've been told that the main reason the NCAA doesn't bring the Final Four men's or women's basketball games to Memphis is due to our city's lack of hotel rooms. Other groups also complain about the dearth of downtown hotel rooms. We could have restaurants and a little shopping in a nice hotel. Again, the parking and trolley line would make it attractive for tourists.
Another creative suggestion is a women's and children's hospital, since Methodist Healthcare is getting out of the baby-delivery business. If you can't go to The Med to have a baby, you have to go to Baptist East, St. Francis, or Germantown. We have such a vibrant medical center that this would be a no-brainer. Some creative architect and designer could figure out how to adapt the building to such a use.
The one suggestion for The Pyramid that is neither creative nor appealing is a casino. House Joint Resolution 788 was introduced by Rep. Larry Miller in the state House of Representatives. He did not consult with either state Rep. Barbara Cooper or city Councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Holt and it's their district. These two elected officials, who truly are public servants, in my opinion, listen to their constituents.
I want to state for the record that I have no problem with gambling. I believe people spend their money whatever way they want. I was with Sen. Steve Cohen from the beginning of his arduous 18-year journey to get a lottery referendum on the ballot so the people could decide if they wanted the state constitution amended. He was always upfront and aboveboard. The way this issue has been handled has been sneaky, with no regard for public input.
This is my opinion. However, I know numerous others oppose a casino at The Pyramid. Put a casino at the Mall of Memphis. They have lots more space out there, and it's empty. The Pyramid isn't empty yet, and we have an opportunity to do something exciting and creative.
Paula Casey is the immediate past president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association. A version of this commentary appeared previously in the DNA newsletter.
Exactly seven years ago this week, I wrote a column decrying a proposal by city engineers to turn the Overton Park Greensward into an 18-foot-deep "detention basin" designed to stop flooding in Midtown. The engineers claimed we'd hardly notice the football-field-sized bowl. "Except," I wrote then, "when it rains hard, at which time, users of Overton Park would probably notice a large, 18-foot-deep lake in the Greensward. Or afterward, a large, muddy, trash-filled depression."