Wednesday, February 2, 2011

From Pyramid Big Dig to Big Do-Over

Posted By on Wed, Feb 2, 2011 at 8:41 AM

The chances of an earthquake destroying the Pyramid in the next 100 years are slight. The chances of a demolition in the next few years are a lot better.

Bass Pro Shops and Robert Lipscomb seem to be resigning themselves to what a lot of people have been saying for years: the Pyramid just doesn't work for a tenant that wants to put in a giant retail store and a hotel and get some use out of the observation deck and all that unused space in the lower level.

Seismic danger, "dueling building codes" and the bond market are getting blamed for the hit, but come on, this merry-go-round has been turning for six years. The Pyramid has become a symbol of failure, and apathy. FedEx Forum made it obsolete. The first question a visitor asks is "what's that?" and then you have to tell them, "Yes, but, it's empty."

"If it costs too much to stabilize it then you have to decide if it is usable for anything," Lipscomb said Tuesday.

It might be worth more as salvage material and bare ground. Then Bass Pro, if it is really committed to Memphis, could build what it wants instead of adapting to what is there. If the company wants a downtown presence at some other location, then Peabody Place has some space.

The status report that the city handed out Tuesday says:

"The Pyramid and Pinch District have received the most attention, but the City of Memphis redevelopment vision is much bolder. It is not about the addition of a retail magnet and a distinctive retail district, but more precisely, it is about building a thriving, active Convention Center District.

"The absence of this kind of district has always put Memphis at a competitive disadvantage in our ambitions for a successful convention center."

The city is going ahead with its plans to acquire property in the Pinch District and the Lone Star property between the interstate ramps.

If the Pyramid is shaky, then the ancient convention center is shakier. What the city seems to be suggesting is something on the order of the new convention centers in Nashville and Jackson, Mississippi. A hugely expensive project at a time when the municipal bond market, according to daily news reports, is comparable to the stock market or the real estate market two years ago, especially for issues that are not backed by taxing authority.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the Pyramid was called The Big Dig. The odds are getting better that we will see a Big Demo before we see a Bass Pro downtown.

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