Friday, December 3, 2010

Downtown Deal of the Decade?

Posted By on Fri, Dec 3, 2010 at 11:05 AM

"We got mobile home prices here, Benny."

So said the auctioneer's assistant to the auctioneer at Thursday's fire sale of 11 condos across the street from the Pyramid for prices as low as $57,000.

Well hell, we'll have mobile home retail when Bass Pro moves in.

Sorry. Low blow. Bass Pro Shops is a good operator. I just wonder if it can justify $125 million in tax-subsidized financing. That's the new new price after this week's financial switcheroo that sends $42 million in federal stimulus bonds and a player to be named later from the Pyramid/Pinch project to the Shelby County Industrial Development board to squander — scratch that — spend on some other big deal swathed in soft bandages of illusion.

I wonder two things.

First, did those bargain-shopping condo buyers maybe remember that "Seinfeld" episode where Kramer and Jerry are driven nuts by a neon Kenny Rogers Roasters sign across the street? Substitute a neon green Bass Pro sign and you get an insomniac's nightmare.

Second, is there a worse reason to do a development than the availability of cheap money and a short timeline for grabbing it? Look at The Horizon, that gaudy rust-colored empty highrise condo on the South Bluff. Or Beale Street Landing, the $27 million boat dock in Tom Lee Park that I bet will cost close to $40 million when it is finished. Or all the unsold new houses and unfinished subdivisions around town. Or the multi-million mostly empty retail center on McLemore across from Soulsville and the Stax Museum.

Good ideas all, just overdone. The lure of big front-end fees, government subsidies, cheap money, and construction jobs trampled analysis based on common sense and actual demand.

The Front Street condos, Harbor Lights, are sort of isolated now but really nice inside. I think the buyers, as auctioneer Benny Taylor said, got a great deal. Some of them are already being rented for $1,000 or more. They're within walking distance of St. Jude, Mud Island, City Hall, and whatever becomes of the Pyramid and the Pinch. If I had the money, I'd invest in one, buy myself a good set of window blinds, and wait for it to appreciate, which I believe it will.

This may have been the downtown deal of the decade. Mobile homes they ain't.

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