Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Bass Pro Deal

Package price for Pyramid, Pinch, and Lone Star: $111 million.

Posted By on Wed, Nov 10, 2010 at 10:59 AM

There is no delicate way to say it. The Bass Pro deal is an attempt to make chicken salad out of chicken shit on a grand scale.

Like that joke about the whore, now that we have established what we are, all we have to settle on is the price.

The price is $111,750,000 for gutting the Pyramid and buying and demolishing some of its surroundings. That's if the bonds are issued this year. Otherwise, the price, which was $63 million about 15 minutes ago, goes to $121 million.

The bonds and the interest on them will be paid with a rebate of state sales taxes within downtown's Tourism Development Zone. The city's finance department says this magical revenue source is projected to exceed $24 million annually. It is other people's money that would go to Nashville instead. At least that's the mantra.

"This is the most important and largest project we have had in the city of Memphis," said Housing and Community Development director Robert Lipscomb.

If you think you're nervous about it, you're not as nervous as Bass Pro. Its home, Springfield, Missouri, is about as unlike downtown Memphis as you can get. For five years, the Bass pros checked out the Pyramid. They fretted about crime, demographics, community support, access, the neighborhood, earthquakes, and floods. As if to punctuate their fears, their store in Nashville flooded last spring. And Haiti got hit with an earthquake. In August, they finally signed a lease.

The City Council resolution said "allocate an amount up to and including $63 million to the Pyramid and Pinch District redevelopment."

It will cost a bit more than that. The funding allocates $53 million to the Pyramid; $10 million to buy the Lone Star Cement property and silos south of it; $27 million for infrastructure projects such as parking garages and property acquisition in the Pinch District east of the Pyramid; $3.2 million for expenses already incurred; and $9.5 million to replenish the city's debt service reserves.

The price includes fees of 4 percent for program management, 10 percent for construction management, 6 percent for architecture and engineering, and $1.5 million to the bond underwriters at Morgan Keegan. That buys a lot of community support. The City Council will vote on November 23rd.

Construction will take two years. The seats will be removed from the Pyramid. The observation deck may or may not stay. If it stays, the city will pay for an elevator.

Lipscomb said Bass Pro draws 4 million visitors a year to its flagship store in Springfield.

"Because of our location, we have a chance to do better," he said, adding that 4 million means out-of-towners, not locals.

Buying the 34 properties targeted in the Pinch District for the budgeted $7 million might not be so easy. Some of them are parking lots or vacant buildings owned by speculators, but some of them are going concerns.

"I have 12 years in my building," said lawyer Steffen Scheiner, who shares it with two other attorneys. "I have spent many long evenings in there playing amateur painter and carpenter. It has been a very good location for my business. The assessed value is not the true value of the property."

If you want a sneak peak at what the inside of the Pyramid will look like two years from now, drive 30 minutes to Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge, Meeman Shelby Forest State Park, or the Ghost River. Or ride a bike on the new Greenline to Shelby Farms. Remember, though, that what you will see are natural trees, swamps, and critters, not real replicas.

Don't tell me about the curse of the Pyramid. I have been writing about it for 24 years. I remember Sidney Shlenker and Isaac Tigrett's hidden crystal skull. I have sworn it off many times, pledging to write no more, but it keeps coming back.

I have an attic full of ammo and camo from my son's days as a guide in Alaska, and I like an overstuffed camouflage recliner and sturdy cargo shorts as well as the next guy. I've taken my wife and a carload of girls to the Gulf Coast many times and dropped them off at the outlet malls. Unlike the convention center, FedExForum, AutoZone Park, Mud Island, or Tiger Lane, Bass Pro Shops are open almost every day.

Writing is a riskless activity, but cities have to take risks. The only question is our price.

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