Showing independence and political muscle, a coalition of Public Building Authority members bucked their leadership Thursday and chose Don Smith as executive director for the $250 million downtown arena for the Memphis Grizzlies.
The personnel committee of the PBA had recommended Michael Ritz for the job. Ritz had the backing of PBA chairman Arnold Perl and committee chairman Pete Aviotti, a special aide to Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton.
Ritz has many years of experience in Memphis downtown development as a banker for Leader Federal and Union Planters Bank and as executive vice president of Loeb Properties. He was also involved in the early redevelopment of Beale Street.
But Ritz didn't have the support of a key member of the PBA, State Sen. John Ford. In a bit of parliamentary wheeling and dealing, the veteran lawmaker made an amended motion to give Smith the job after Aviotti had made a motion nominating Ritz. Ford's amended motion carried 8-1 before Ritz could be considered. All five of the minority members of the PBA voted to support Smith. The only vote against Smith came from developer David Peck, who had seconded the nomination of Ritz. Perl abstained, and Aviotti voted for Smith when it became apparent Smith had enough support to win.
Smith is hardly a stranger or an outsider himself. He was head of the Pickering Firm, an engineering firm that has done a lot of work for the city and county. And he was chairman of the Memphis Area Chamber of Commerce in 1994. Smith and the Pickering Firm were also consultants to the city and county for the construction of The Pyramid.